Protest against court closure

MP 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 Magistrates Court
MP 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 Magistrates Court

A protest has been held at St Helens Magistrates Court by legal professionals opposed to the buildings proposed closure.

The court is one of 17 courts in the North West that could be closed following a consultation by the Ministry of Justice as it seeks to cut costs by reducing the number of buildings it runs.

The announcement was made in July as part of government plans to reduce what they describe as “under-used and poor quality” buildings.

But there is opposition to the plan with campaigners saying it will be the victims of crime who will suffer if the court closes.

One of those opposed to the proposal is St Helens MP Marie Rimmer who has also questioned the government’s figures which argue that the court is under-used.

She said: “Like many residents, legal professionals and businesses, I have serious concerns about the potential impact of the closure of St Helens Courthouse.

“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.

“I recently visited the newly refurbished courthouse to see the excellent modern facilities available. It is a modern well used facility and there are serious concerns about the Government’s figures that argue the court is under-used.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve met with key stakeholders, written to ministers and spoken in Parliament against these proposals. I will continue to support efforts to keep the St Helens Courthouse open.”

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.

The court currently employs 32 people and it is unclear whether they will keep their jobs if the proposal is approved.

The petition has been signed by nearly 1,000 people and reads: “We are currently in a review stage and seek public assistance.

“If local magistrates and county courts are forced to close victims of crime are the ones who will suffer. Jobs will be lost and further businesses compromised.”

Courts minister Shailesh Vara said of the proposals in July: “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 will close on October 8.