The government has announced that, following consultations carried out earlier this year, seven courts are to be closed. They are Chorley, Fleetwood, Maidenhead and Northallerton Magistrates' Courts and Banbury Magistrates' and County Court, as well as Blackfriars Crown Court and Wandsworth County Court. Cambridge Magistrates' Court will, however, remain open after the consultation on its possible closure.
It was also announced that Northallerton Magistrates' Court will not be closed until video facilities are made available in Northallerton as recent changes to public transport timetables 'may make it more difficult for some users in some areas to get to court, especially for early morning starts'. The MA is concerned by this as, while increasing the availability of video facilities has benefits, it should not be seen as a substitute for victims, witnesses and defendants being able to attend court in person.
Report on the impact of the magistrates' court closures in Suffolk
This research study was commissioned by Suffolk's Public Sector Leaders to examine the impact of the closure in 2016 of two of the three magistrates' courts in Suffolk. The study concludes that the court closures have led to far greater generalised costs for court users residing further away from Ipswich, where the remaining court is, and are aggravating problems already present in the system, brought on, for example, by changes to legal aid. The research also suggests that non-appearances by defendants may have increased due to the courts closures.
The study notes that court closures are weakening access to 'local justice knowledge' due to magistrates not being able to sit in their local courts, and also suggests that the increased travel times have serious implications for judicial diversity. Working-age adults, ethnic minority candidates and disabled adults based in areas other than Ipswich are likely to face a significant cost barrier in joining the magistracy compared to those living locally. The study notes that the impact on judicial diversity was omitted from the Ministry of Justice's impact assessment.