Court closures 'threaten rural justice'

Rural communities risk being cut off from the criminal justice system due to court closures, the government has been told.

The warning was issued by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), which comprises nearly 30 Police and Crime Commissioners and other organisations.

The network was responding to a consultation on the proposed future strategy for HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

It believes the impact of any changes to where hearings and cases are heard will significantly impact rural parts of the country harming the confidence in and connection to justice.

The consultation suggests there could be changes to the location of courts and tribunal buildings.

But the NRCN said too much emphasis was being placed on how public transport and technology would be able to reduce the impact of these changes.

NRCN chairman Julia Mulligan put these views to justice minister Lucy Frazer in a meeting at Westminster on Monday (20 March).

Ms Mulligan urged Ms Frazer to take the views into consideration when decisions are made on the future location of courts and tribunal buildings.

While NRCN members accept that savings need to be made, "we do not believe the consultation document recognises many of the unique challenges of rural communities," says the NRCN consultation response.

"From transport to technology, many of the factors cited in this document as being able to mitigate the impact of changes to the court and tribunal estate simply do not exist in any meaningful form in rural communities.

"‘We would also question some of the research which has been carried out for this consultation, and individual consultations on specific changes.

"For example, often there seems too much reliance on looking at maps online and making assumptions rather than taking into account geography, demography and the public service landscape.’

Ms Mulligan said: "If the views of those who live and work in rural communities are not taken into account in this consultation, there is a very real risk they will be cut off from the criminal justice system.

HM Courts & Tribunal Service should recognise the unique challenges faced by rural communities as they assess the results of this consultation, she added.

They should ensure any changes help rather than hinder access to justice for those who all too often already feel their voice is not heard nor listened to.


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