Anger over court closure threats

Plans to close 18 Wales' magistrates and county courts to save money have been met with anger.

The Ministry of Justice plans, which are out of consultation, are part of a wider cost-cutting exercise aimed at saving £37m.

Magistrates have told the BBC Radio Wales' Eye on Wales programme the closures will damage the judicial system.

But HM Courts Service says the court estate in Wales needs to be examined.

Among those on the closure list are Pwllheli magistrates' court in Gwynedd, where magistrates sit two days a week.

The consultation document claims the court is under-used and its facilities inadequate to hear the necessary range of cases.

But those involved in the criminal justice system say closure would erode local justice and leave some court users living in the further reaches of the Llyn Peninsula facing a potential two-hour journey to Caernarfon court, where cases would be transferred.

Eurwyn Lloyd Evans, chair of the magistrates in Gwynedd, said: "The rural areas are losing out again.

"It's easy to draw circles on maps and say, 'well it's only 20 miles and you can get there', you can probably do that in the cities but it's not that easy in the rural areas.

"This is going to erode local justice in the area."

Court cases

The closure affect criminal cases in magistrates courts, family law, public law and other civil cases heard in the county courts - five of which are on the closure list in Wales, including Aberdare, Pontypool and Llangefni on Anglesey.

Barry magistrates, which was earmarked for closure in 2006 but reprieved after a campaign of opposition, is back on the list once again.

Alun Cairns, Vale of Glamorgan MP, said: "There's an exceptionally important principle here, and that's about local justice, whereby people are tried, and found guilty or innocent, within their own community rather than an alien environment.

"Of course, the financial context is very different now to what it was four years ago, and it seems to me as though officials have said to the minister, these are options we looked at in the past, let's look at them again."

Other closure-threatened courts include Cardigan, Llandovery, Abergavenny and Denbigh.

HM Court Service's courts director for Wales, Claire Pillman, said: "I think it's right in the current difficult financial circumstances that we take a look at how we use the court estate across Wales.

"We're extremely proud of the service we deliver to court users in Wales, but we do need to look at those courts which are less frequently used, and perhaps to focus work on those courts where facilities are better for users."

Eye on Wales is broadcast on BBC Radio Wales on Monday 19 July at 1830 BST.

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