Magistrates’ court closure slammed by politicians

St Helens Magistrates' Court
St Helens Magistrates' Court

The St Helens Magistrates Court will close, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed.

The MoJ announced today that St Helens Magistrates will close with the Courthouse and County Court remaining open. County Court work from Warrington will also be moved to St Helens.

Marie Rimmer MP campaigned against the proposals to close the court saying it would inhibit access to justice.

She said: “I am deeply disappointed in the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that St Helens Magistrates Court will close. This news is a blow to local access to justice for victims and witnesses of crime as well as to the hardworking Magistrates and court staff.

“However, I welcome the news that the County Court and the Courthouse are to remain open and also that County Court work from Warrington will be moving to St Helens.

“I have been working with legal professionals in recent months as part of their campaign to save the courts. Following this announcement, I will be calling for an urgent debate in Parliament about the impact of the planned closures.

“Access to justice and maximum utilisation of the modern facility continue to be my priority and I will work with Ministers, HM Courts and Tribunal Services and local legal professional to ensure the courthouse secures a viable future.”

St Helens Council Leader Barrie Grunewald has also condemned the decision.

The council objected to the proposals during the consultation period and after the announcement was made – as part of the Courts and Tribunals Service Estate Reform programme - Councillor Grunewald warned that “justice would suffer” as a result of the closure.

He said: “How can we expect defendants, witnesses and victims of crime to make far longer journeys into Liverpool to ensure that justice is done?

“The government claims most people will be within an hour’s drive of their nearest court. But for many people that simply isn’t an option as they don’t have access to a car.

“Justice will suffer as a result of this short-sighted attempt to save money which, in the long term, could have costly repercussions for our communities.”

Councillor Grunewald said he welcomed the decision to retain St Helens County Court – which will receive extra work from Warrington – but insisted that a Magistrates Court was ‘vital’ for the borough.

Conor McGinn MP said: “This is bad news for the town and for residents of St Helens North.

“We await further and final details from the Ministry of Justice, but it would appear that the functions of the court will move to Liverpool.

“Many appointments at court are often first thing in the morning, and without access to adequate transport attendance will simply be unfeasible for many of my constituents.

“This is particularly the case for the people who live in places like Rainford, Billinge, Moss Bank and Haydock and rural areas, who have to travel just to reach direct bus and rail services to Liverpool.

“Added to that, the cost of the train or bus to Liverpool will also have an impact on vulnerable people in my constituency whether they are victims, witnesses or defendants. Someone’s financial means should not affect their ability to access the justice system.

“Today’s announcement is another attempt by the Tory Government to denigrate the status of St Helens as a major town in the North West. We must not let them succeed.”

10 county courts, family courts or magistrates’ courts in the North West will close to reduce “surplus capacity”.

Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Aid said: “The decision to close a court or tribunal must never be taken lightly.

“For each location, I have considered whether the closure would still allow for effective access to justice, whether it offers a significant saving, and whether it would allow HM Courts & Tribunals Service to maintain high quality service provision.

“Where these conditions are met, we have taken the decision to close the court or tribunal.

“On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time.

“That is equivalent to less than 2 days a week. 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 1 percentage points for both criminal and County Courts. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.”