Decline in access to justice risks 'losing public confidence'
Public confidence in the judical process will fall without more funding, a new report has warned.
Figures released by The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, show that more than two in five courts have closed since 2010, leaving the majority of Parliamentary constituencies without an active court.
Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Local courts matter and local justice matters. There is an increasing demand for access to local public services including access to justice. The closure of hundreds of courts over the last decade means that people must travel further and for longer, and waiting lists and backlogs have grown.
“We urgently need a political commitment to fund capacity across the justice system. Technology may be able to help on the fringes, but the Government urgently needs to appoint more judges in all jurisdictions, commit to a long-term rebuilding of crumbling court estate, and widen access to legal aid. If people cannot access justice quickly and efficiently, the public will lose confidence that the law will help them resolve family, property, and financial disputes.”
The Bar Council’s research said there have been 239 court closures in England and Wales in the last 12 years, meaning just 57 per cent remain open. Of the 239 closures, 162 were for criminal courts.
This includes criminal courts such as crown and magistrates, as well as family, county and any other court that does not fall under the “criminal” category.
It said there are currently 373 parliamentary constituencies without an active local court, including in the constituencies of the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, and the justice minister Victoria Atkins. There are 200 parliamentary constituencies with an active local court, meaning 65 per cent of England and Wales is not covered, the Bar Council said.
Analysis of the Bar Council’s figures showed the highest closure rate was in Wales, where 21 of 36 criminal courts had closed, around 58 per cent. The figure for London was 40 per cent, with 18 of 45 criminal courts closing.
The lowest (32 per cent) was in Yorkshire and the Humber, with just 10 of 31 criminal courts closing.
It comes as latest figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service show there were 358,076 outstanding cases at the magistrates court, and 58,271 outstanding cases at the crown court, as of April 2022.