The government has finally published its response to reforming the court and tribunal estate. The result? Future court closures should be based on the principle that people who must attend court should not have to leave their home before 7.30am and should be back home by 7.30pm, according to the Ministry of Justice.
In total, over 200 consultation responses were received, and the subject of travel time to and from court generated the largest response, according to justice secretary David Gauke – with many concerned about a ‘benchmark that lacked specificity’. The ministry proposed that users should be able to attend court on time and return ‘within a day’.
Following on from this, future proposals are now set to be based on ‘reasonable’ journey times. The ministry will consider whether the ‘overwhelming majority’ of users would be able to leave home and return within the suggested time frames using public transport, if necessary. Difficulty of the journey will also be taken into consideration.
The ministry says it will conduct ‘real-world’ travel time assessments with software that estimates real journey times. Proposals to close a court will not be made until there is ‘sufficient evidence’ that the estate rationalisation will work.
The ministry is keen to highlight in its response document that the court estate ‘remains accessible to the majority of people’, pointing out that 245 are within five miles, 280 are within 10 miles and 304 are within 15 miles of another court or tribunal. These distances, the ministry says, ‘means that the majority of users will not face onerous journeys’.
Commenting on the report, Gauke said: ‘Our reform programme allows people to start to settle disputes away from the courtroom, while offering opportunities to improve our courts and tribunals. With new technology and modern ways of working, we expect the number of people accessing our courts remotely to increase. We are reviewing the current estate to ensure it is fit for purpose.
‘This report makes sure that access to justice, value for money and efficiency are maintained in the long term and these principles will mean our justice system remains fit for the 21st century.’
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said the issue of travel times, ‘not adequately addressed in the government’s response’, will only worsen with court closures, adding that what is considered a ‘reasonable’ journey could, in fact, be a number of hours.