A total of 86 court buildings across England and Wales are to be closed as part of a £700million revamp to modernise the justice system.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara said many of the courts earmarked for the axe are only used for a third of their available time on average –e quivalent to less than two days a week – and many were unsuited to the use of modern technology.
Read more: Hartelpool court to close by 2017
The £700million investment over the next four years will include the installation of modern IT systems and wifi to allow online pleas, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing, reducing the need for people to travel to court.
In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Vara said: “It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.
“This represents a change of just one percentage point for both criminal and county courts. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.
“For each proposal in the consultation, we have considered access to justice; value for money; and efficiency.”
But unions warned the closures will seriously undermine local access to courts and public confidence. Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the shake-up was driven by a political choice to cut public spending.
He said: “The closures would seriously undermine access to local courts that is crucial not only for the administration of justice but also public confidence in the justice system.
“The plans are not being driven by need or what will work, but by a political choice to cut public spending.
“It is impossible to know whether the Government’s case on better use of technology stacks up because these decisions are being taken before it has been properly developed and tested.”