UK Politics

Coalition reveals list of 142 court closures

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Media captionValerie Murray Chandra describes what it's like working as a magistrate

The government has revealed that 93 magistrates' courts are to be closed in England and Wales.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly also said the government would shut 49 county courts, as part of its deficit-reduction programme.

These figures are slightly down from 103 magistrates' courts and 54 county courts previously marked for closure.

Mr Djanogly told MPs the current system was "unsustainable", but Labour accused the coalition of "crude cost-cutting".

The magistrates' courts previously listed for closure but which will be reprieved are at Abergavenny, Harlow, Kettering, Newbury, Newton Abbott, Skipton, Spalding, Stroud, Waltham Forest and Worksop.

The county courts that will stay open are Barnsley, Bury, Llangefni, City of London and Skipton.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Djanogly said changes to the court system would mean a "better, more efficient and more modern" system of justice, with premises modernised.

'Not Tesco'

He added: "It's unacceptable that dozens of buildings never intended to be, and not fit to be, modern court buildings are still in use."

Mr Djanogly also said that the changes would mean 85% of people could still get to their nearest court within an hour via public transport - down from 90% currently.

But for Labour, shadow justice minister Andrew Slaughter said: "Courts are not like Facebook or Tesco. They are an important part of many communities, in the same way that people regard police stations or town halls."

People would be "inconvenienced" and "disconcerted by the changes, he added, saying: "Isn't it true that this is a crude, cost-cutting exercise with none of the benefits [Mr Djanogly] claims?"

There are some 300 magistrates' courts, which deal with most minor crimes, crown court committal hearings and licensing applications.

It is estimated that the closure programme will save the government at least £15m a year in running costs, plus an extra £22m in maintaining the buildings.

There are almost 29,000 magistrates in England and Wales. They are volunteers drawn from the community and deal with nine out of 10 cases that come before the courts.

Most cases are heard by three magistrates who only receive expenses and allowances to cover loss of earnings. District judges also appear at magistrates' courts to deal with more complex cases that do not need to be sent to full trial at Crown Court.

County Courts deal with most cases brought under civil law. These include divorces and family disputes, business cases, housing issues, accident claims and small claims.

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