The Law Society, which represents and governs solicitors in England and Wales, is the latest voice to speak out against the planned court closures in Hartlepool.
The Society has recommended the town’s magistrates’ court stays open, stating the closure will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court.
Here are The Law Society’s five main areas for concern:
1. Access to justice
It will be more difficult for many people, particularly those on lower incomes, to get to a court or tribunal if the proposed closures go ahead. To ensure equal access to justice, the public should be able to get to a local court within a reasonable time and without incurring unreasonable expense. All of the proposed closures set out in the consultation paper will result in court users travelling further, at greater cost.
2. Impact on court users
The increased travel time to proposed alternative courts would have a negative economic and logistical impact on a range of people who use the courts including the judiciary, jurors, HM Courts and Tribunals Service staff and the prison and probation services.
3. Use of technology
The Law Society believes it would be better to modernise the courts with new technology, assess how it is working and then consider savings, rather than the other way round.
4. Legal aid contracts
The Law Society is concerned that the court closures will lead to its members being financially unable to meet the requirements of the legal aid contracts through no fault of their own. This could leave people who qualify for legal aid unable to access legal advice in some areas.
The Law Society is concerned about the lack of transparency in the information provided in the Ministry of Justice’s impact assessment.
It states that neither the consultation paper nor the impact assessment sets out the criteria used to identify the courts and tribunals proposed for closure or consolidation.
The algorithm used to calculate travel times is no longer available to the public, having been taken offline in 2014.
The Ministry of Justice declined a Law Society request for further information.