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Court closures threaten rural access to justice

PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The Rural Services Network [1] has warned that the closure of magistrates' courts is putting a strain on police budgets and threatening to undermine rural access to the justice system..

RSN chairman Councillor Cecilia Motley said: "Access to justice is a fundamental right – no matter where somebody lives."

She added: "We accept that savings have to be made – but it is wrong that rural communities should be unfairly impacted."

In Herefordshire, for example, all arrested individuals requiring a bail decision have to been sent on a daily basis out of the county to Kidderminster in neighbouring Worcestershire – at a cost to police in terms of both transport costs and lost time by police officers.

Councillor Motley said: "Because of these closures, many rural court users face longer journey times which threatens to undermine their ability to access the justice system."

She continued: "Public transport links are already very poor or non-existent in many rural areas and it is important to remember that not everyone owns a car.

"It is wrong that rural communities should bear the brunt of court closures – the impact of which will be felt particularly by less well-off members of society."

* * *

Editors notes:

[1] The Rural Services Network is the only non-governmental organisation representing the interests of rural service providers and the communities that they serve. It involves currently some 154 Local Authorities and over 100 other service providers. It comprises SPARSE Rural, the Rural Assembly, the wider Rural Services Partnership and the RSN Community Group. The organisation works with Rural England, a stand-alone CIC research group. For details, visit www.rsnonline.org.uk.

[2] A public consultation setting out the government's proposed future strategy for HM Courts & Tribunals Service in its approach to court and tribunal estate reform closed on 29 March. Government ministers are now considering their response. The consultation documents can be seen at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/.


Media contact:

Graham Biggs
RSN Chief Executive
T: 01588 674 922
M: 07966 790197
E: graham.biggs@sparse.gov.uk
W: www.rsnonline.org.uk


Our Key Messages:

Public Sector Funding
Central Government has historically and systematically underfunded rural areas giving them less grant per head than urban areas – despite the fact that it costs more to provide the services. Rural residents earn less on average than those in urban areas and therefore pay more Council Tax for fewer local government services. Government policy, implicitly, is that council services in rural areas are more reliant on funding through council tax than their urban counterparts. We demand fairer funding for all public services serving rural areas.

Barriers to Access
Rural residents and businesses face multiple barriers in terms of access to key services, including transport and broadband. Yet councils providing services to rural residents receive less money from government, pay disproportionately more for fewer services and typically earn less than people in urban areas. As a result rural residents suffer multiple disadvantages.

Future of Rural Areas
Rural communities contribute a great deal to the national economy but are facing threats to their future. This is due to a combination of chronic underfunding, demographic challenges, diminishing resources, with the needs of rural areas being systematically overlooked. Without action conditions in rural areas will deteriorate further. It is in the national interest that we all work together to revitalise this fundamental national asset.

Health and Wellbeing
Despite its idyllic image, rural communities often experience difficulties in accessing health and support services. This is becoming increasingly difficult as specialist services are centralised to remain resilient and poor transport links reduce access. There are recruitment and retention issues amongst medical staff in rural areas. Rural residents are therefore vulnerable to isolation and poorer health outcomes in the long term. 

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