Nearly half the magistrates’ courts in North and West Yorkshire have closed since 2010
Nearly half the magistrates’ courts in North and West Yorkshire have closed over the last decade, figures show.
Experts are concerned that widespread court closures could deny people access to justice.
House of Commons library data reveals that six of the 15 magistrates’ courts in the area have shut since 2010.
These courts have closed:
Pontefract Magistrates’ Court
Wakefield & Pontefract Magistrates’ Court
Halifax Magistrates’ Court (Calderdale)
Batley & Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court
Bingley (Keighley) Magistrates’ Court
Northallerton Magistrates’ Court
The following courts remain open:
Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
Harrogate Justice Centre
Kirklees (Huddersfield) Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
Leeds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
North Yorkshire Magistrates’ Courts Central Finance Unit
Scarborough Justice Centre
Skipton Magistrates’ Court
York Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
More than half the magistrates’ courts in England and Wales have closed as part of reforms by the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
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 North and West Yorkshire four courts have been sold - two to private buyers - raising a total of £1.3m for the MoJ.
The Treasury has stipulated that £400mn 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.”