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Divorce law blog

Court closures - a further blow to access to justice

12/02/2016   By: Nigel Shepherd

On 11 February the Government announced the outcome of its court closure consultation. 91 courts around the country had been earmarked for closure. The decision has been taken to close 86 of these over the next 18 months. Many of these are courts dealing with family cases.

In 2013 sweeping changes were made to the legal aid system resulting in the vast majority of people who previously would have been eligible for help with legal fees for private family law matters being left high and dry and fending for themselves. These are people who are trying to sort out the arrangements for their children or housing, maintenance and pension issues following a divorce.

The Minister Shailesh Vara has said that 97% of the population will be able to get to their nearest court within an hour by car. We know from the information gathered on the ground by members of the family law group Resolution and the Law Society that these statistics are questionable to say the least, but in any event many of the most vulnerable in society, the same people who’ve already been disadvantaged by the scrapping of legal aid, don’t have a car. They’re relying on public transport and on the Government’s own figures 25% of them will now have a journey of more than an hour - in some cases considerably more. They will have greater travel costs as well and all of this can only add to the stress that inevitably comes with having to appear in court, particularly without the support of a lawyer.

I’m not saying that all of these courts should have been kept. Some didn’t get enough use to justify keeping them open and many were in need of modernisation. However, there has been no proper impact assessment on the knock on effects of these closures on the remaining courts, so many of which are already creaking under the strain of more people representing themselves and budgetary constraints. The worry is that these closures are going to be happening before many of the courts that are left have had the investment they need.

Difficult choices have to be made by Government, but once again the people most affected are those who have already borne the brunt of the erosion of our previously enviable justice system.

Nigel Shepherd
Family Law Partner & Collaborative Lawyer

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