The Law Society is strongly opposing the Ministry of Justice’s proposal to close Chichester Combined Court.
Some 91 courts and tribunals have been earmarked for closure by the Ministry of Justice – one fifth of courts and tribunals across England and Wales. There are also plans to integrate or merge 31 more.
The consultation period for the proposals ends today.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “The proposed closure of Chichester Combined Court (Crown and County) will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court, and the closures will more adversely affect people with disabilities and lower income families.
“Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, this closure will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone in England and Wales must be able to access legal advice and the justice system.”
The society said its members were ‘particularly concerned’ about the impact of the closure on access to justice in the local area.
They were also concerned that the travel time data given in the consultation paper is misleading.
A press statement from the society read: “Solicitors highlighted poor road and rail infrastructure in their responses. Closing the courts in Chichester would make it extremely difficult for court users in surrounding areas, such as Selsey, to reach a court.
Court users in remote rural locations already have difficulties reaching court in Chichester. These difficulties would be exacerbated if Chichester courts are closed.
“As set out in our main consultation response, longer, more expensive journeys could have a serious impact on the ability and willingness of victims, witnesses, defendants and jurors, particularly those on low incomes, to attend court.
Chichester Combined Court is substantially busier than average for courts in England and Wales. Our members report that waiting rooms are often crowded and interview rooms fully booked. The Law Society therefore recommends that Chichester Combined Court (Crown and County) and Chichester Magistrates’ Court remain open.”
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