Leading law firms’ court axe fears

St Helens Magistrates' Court
St Helens Magistrates' Court

Staff at St Helens Magistrates and County Court face an anxious wait to find out if they will lose their jobs.

It was revealed last week that the court, which employs 32 people, is one of 17 courts in the North West that could be closed by the Ministry of Justice following a consultation.

Travel to a Liverpool city centre location will put considerable constraints on those disabled, less-able and people with financial constraints

Joanne Ellis, a partner at the St Helens office of law firm Stephensons

The announcement was made by Courts Minister Shailesh Vara as part of government plans to reduce what they describe as “under-used and poor quality” buildings.

Mr Vara said: “We are reforming the courts and tribunal service so that it meets the needs of modern day users.

“Access to justice is not just about attending court. As we bring in digital technology for better and more efficient access to justice, fewer people will need to physically be in a court.

“This means that we will need fewer buildings, and with many already underused and in poor quality, now is a good time to review the estate.”

The consultation documents have revealed that St Helens Magistrates’ and County Court was utilised at approximately 62 per cent during the 2014/15 financial year and costs around £281,000 a year to operate.

If the courthouse, which underwent a £1.7 million refurbishment in 2012, closes defendants and witnesses would be forced to travel to Liverpool city centre to attend Liverpool and Knowsley Magistrates’ Court and Liverpool Civil and Family Court.

Joanne Ellis, a partner at the St Helens office of law firm Stephensons, said: “The impact of these potential closures is yet to be seen.

“But what we do know is that many vulnerable members of the community will find it more difficult to access justice going forward.

“Travel to a Liverpool city centre location will put considerable constraints on those disabled, less-able and people with financial constraints.

“But if these changes do go ahead as planned, Stephensons will still be here to continue to support local people.”

The consultation document highlights that there are good transport links between St Helens and Liverpool city centre but it could leave people having to travel at least 14 miles.

It mentions that a peak train ticket cost £5.70 and takes 35 minutes whereas a day ticket for the bus is £5 and takes around 45 minutes.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services union said: “Our members in all the courts slated for closure are extremely worried about their futures.

“They don’t believe the MoJ has made out a case for closure and, with the labour market still very fragile and the prospect of tens of thousands more jobs going in the civil service in the next few years, they don’t feel confident that they would be able to find other comparable work.”

The consultation will take 12 weeks and will close on October 8.