How the axe has fallen on Lancashire's courts

One third of the magistrates’ courts in Lancashire have closed over the past decade.

By Mike Hill
Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 3:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 3:28 pm
Chorley Magistrates' Court's future is under a cloud
Chorley Magistrates' Court's future is under a cloud

Experts are concerned that widespread court closures could deny people access to justice.

House of Commons library data reveals that four of the 12 magistrates’ courts in the county have shut since 2010:

Rawtenstall Magistrates’ Court, Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court and Family Court, Accrington Magistrates’ Court, Fleetwood Magistrates’ Court.

It was announced last year that Chorley Magistrates’ Court was to close but the facility remains open.

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They aim to “improve access to justice” by using technology, including having defendants entering pleas online and testifying remotely via video screen.

However, campaigners say this could hamper communication between defendants and their legal representatives.

In Lancashire two courts have been sold - one to a private buyer - raising a total of £385,000 for the MoJ. The Treasury has stipulated that £400m of the MoJ’s £1.2bn digital modernisation programme must be raised through the sale of courthouses.

Across England and Wales, £223m has been raised by closing 162 out of 323 magistrates’ courts.Two courts were sold for just £1 each.

Penelope Gibbs, director of legal charity Transform Justice, says the MoJ should assess the impact of video justice before spending money on expensive technology.

Ms Gibbs, a former magistrate, said: “The hidden story of virtual justice is of the harm the disconnect does to the relationship between lawyer and client.

“Defendants appear alone, isolated from the court, their lawyer, court staff and family, with their ability to communicate hampered by poor technology.”

She added that the MoJ has “closed courts without having a replacement system in place”, leaving witnesses and defendants stranded.

The MoJ maintains that the programme will make access to justice easier and improve efficiency, particularly by closing under-used court houses.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: “The closure of any court is not taken lightly - it only happens following full public consultation and when communities have reasonable access to alternative courts.”

The following courts in Lancashire remain open: Blackburn Magistrates’ Court, Blackpool Magistrates’ Court, Burnley Combined Court, Burnley Magistrates’ Court, Lancaster Magistrates’ Court, Preston Magistrates’ Court, Reedley Magistrates’ Court and Family Court