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Court closures wont affect legal aid and family reforms

Legal aid and family reforms will not be impacted by the closure of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, according to the government. HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service) is currently consulting on the closure of 57 magistrates’ courts, 19 county courts, two Crown courts, four tribunal hearings and nine combined courts. More than 30 other courts are set to be integrated.

The Legal Aid Agency has stated that the consultation “will not affect the ongoing assessment and planned timetable for the crime duty tender". The LAA are currently considering almost 1,100 bids for over 500 duty provider contracts, providing round-the-clock cover at police stations. The results of that process will be announced to law firms in September, and will come into effect in January 2016.

There are fears that cuts to the legal aid budget and the closure of courts will affect the legal services that people are able to access, particularly if they end up having to travel long distances to court. Should the closure of these 91 courts go ahead, almost 40 per cent of courts will have closed since 2010. The government claims that these courts are under-used, but in the last round of cuts some 93 magistrates’ courts and 49 County courts were closed, raising the question of how much slack there could possibly be in the system. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented, “With courts closures and cuts to legal aid, access to justice has been significantly restricted by the previous government and now this one. We do not believe it is in the interests of justice to leave our communities without easy access to courthouses and tribunals.”

Sharon McKie, specialist divorce solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, said: “One concern is the increased burden on the remaining courts which could lead to delay in the issue of proceedings such as divorce and availability of court time for applications relating to family matters such as children cases and financial remedy.”
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