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Law Society wants pilot scheme ahead of proposed court closures

The Law Society said it wants the government to test the use of public buildings for court hearings before it considers reforms which will close one in five courts in England and Wales.

Consultation on court closures ended last week, with the Law Society asking for further consultation on the use of public buildings before the Ministry of Justice goes through with its plan to close 91 courts and tribunals, and merge a further 31.

The Law Society said in its submission its members already face administrative problems and delays currently experienced in courts and tribunals, and said the ministry should carry out a separate consultation before it makes a decision.

The lobby group, which surveyed 823 of its members on the issue, said there is a perception that quality of the court service has declined due to recent court closures, staff cuts and resourcing constraints.

‘Solicitors who responded to the society’s survey repeatedly shared their frustrations about administrative problems and delays that they currently experience in courts and tribunals.

‘These problems would be exacerbated if busy courts are closed and their workload transferred to other courts that are already operating at high capacity.

The Law Society also said there was a ‘worrying number’ of factual errors in the consultation document, which suggested the proposals were based on inaccurate information.

Courts Minister Shailesh Vara has said the courts cost taxpayers about half a billion pounds each year and were underused as a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than half of their available hearing time.

The proposed changes are part of Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s reform agenda outlined in June, to tackle what he said was a ‘creaking, outdated’ system. 

Read the full text of the Law Society’s submission here.