The Government was saving only £13 million from the move and it would affect the victims of crime, who were often elderly and frail.
Nearly one in four courts will close in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice confirmed last night. A total of 93 magistrates’ courts and 49 county courts will shut in the major cost-cutting drive. It means just 15 of the 157 originally proposed for closure have been spared the axe.
The decision was prompted by an ‘unsustainable’ situation in which many courts sat idle for long periods, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said yesterday.
The closures will save £41.5million over the next four years.
Ministers also hope to raise £38.5million from selling the buildings as they look to slash department spending by 23 per cent.
Under the plans, £22 million will be reinvested to improve the courts which will receive extra work as a result of the closures, MPs were also told.
The ministry’s court reform consultation, which began in June, had originally proposed shutting down 103 magistrates’ courts and 54 county courts in England and Wales.
Of the 49 county courts earmarked for closure, ten will remain open for hearings under the control of other county courts.
Announcing the results, Mr Djanogly admitted there would be longer journey times to court for some victims, witnesses and defendants.
However, he said: ‘We should not operate courts just to shave minutes off a journey that many will never need to make.
‘Failures in the last decade to manage the courts estate properly have led to a service which is unsustainable at any time, let alone in the current financial circumstances.
‘It is unsustainable that in 2009/10 our 330 magistrates’ courts sat for less than two thirds of their available time and that courtrooms in our 219 county courts sat on average for only 180 days a year.’
Mr Djanogly claimed the plans would ‘very slightly’ reduce the percentage of the population able to access their nearest court within an hour’s journey from their homes.
The figure would fall from just under 90 per cent to 85 per cent.
Mr Djanogly added there would be a greater emphasis on video conferencing and improvements would be made to accommodation at some courts.
‘This forms an important part of my department’s clear vision for a step change in our justice system, one that protects our communities from crime, and works for, rather than against, the most important people in the system, the victims and the witnesses,’ he told MPs.
Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter condemned the move as ‘wholesale destruction of this foundation stone of much of British justice’ that would save the Government just £13million
Mr Slaughter highlighted that the closures would affect victims of crime, who were often elderly and frail and would find it increasingly difficult to get to courts as bus services were cut back.
He attacked ministers and MPs in the Coalition for ‘sounding off’ in newspapers against the closures, claiming it was an, ‘I back the cuts but not in my backyard’ policy and said opposition was growing across the Government.
New prison plan cancelled
Plans to build a prison to hold 600 inmates have been cancelled, the Ministry of Justice said today.
The proposed jail in Maghull, near Ashworth High Security Hospital, has been scrapped in the wake of plans for Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s rehabilitation revolution and last week’s sentencing Green Paper.
Serco Group, the preferred bidder on the contract for the prison which was first proposed in 2007, has been informed, the MoJ said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We will now look in detail at the sentencing frameworks for adults and young offenders, and the full range of penalties currently available to sentencers.
‘We will also look to overhaul the system of rehabilitation to reduce reoffending.’
He went on: ‘We will consult widely before bringing forward more detailed plans for reform.
‘Long-term decisions on prison capacity programmes will be taken in the light of future policy developments and a projected fall in the number of offenders in custody.
‘We will ensure that we meet prison capacity requirements more efficiently to improve value for money for the taxpayer and contribute savings to help reduce the budget deficit.’
Mr Clarke has said the plans outlined in last week’s Green Paper could see the near-record prison population of more than 85,000 in England and Wales drop by 3,000 by 2015.
Via Daily Mail