Court closure ‘will inhibit access to justice’

ST HELENS Councillor Marie Rimmer CBE, right, with representatives of law firms, from left, Joanne Ellis, Diana Fairclough, Jennifer Ryan and Keith Powell, joined a protest against the proposal to close St Helens magistrates court pictured outside St Helens Courthouse.
ST HELENS Councillor Marie Rimmer CBE, right, with representatives of law firms, from left, Joanne Ellis, Diana Fairclough, Jennifer Ryan and Keith Powell, joined a protest against the proposal to close St Helens magistrates court pictured outside St Helens Courthouse.

Access to justice will be inhibited if a series of proposed court closures - including St Helens Magistrates - go ahead, according to the Law Society.

The independent professional body for solicitors has responded to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to close 91 courts and tribunals in the UK including St Helens Magistrates Court.

The society says its response reflects solicitors’ views on the likely adverse impact of the proposed closures on communities, the justice system and the legal profession.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “A majority of these proposed court closures will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court, and the closures will more adversely affect people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families.

“Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the proposed closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone in England and Wales must be able to access legal advice and the justice system.”

A consultation into the proposed closures, which were announced by the Ministry of Justice in July as it seeks to cut costs by reducing the number of buildings it runs, finished on October 8.

The announcement has been met with anger from St Helens MP Marie Rimmer and legal representatives who held a protest outside the court at the end of last month.

Ms Rimmer said: “The closure would have a major impact on access to local justice for victims and their families as well as having a negative economic impact on our community.

“As well as criminal matters dealt with by Magistrates’, the County Court deals with civil, housing and family law cases such as domestic abuse injunctions and applications to save homes from repossession.

“The majority of these cases are dealt with at very short notice and if the facility closed, many residents would be cut off from access to the justice system.”