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Court closures in Wales criticised

7th Dec 2016

Ongoing court closures in rural Wales frustrate the core principle of access to justice and risk disadvantaging communities where Welsh is the first spoken language, a senior magistrate has argued.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal, Sheena Jowett JP, deputy chairman of the Magistrates Association, said that “The impact of court closures in Wales is very significant with it falling heaviest in areas where many court users are rural.”

“Closures have also meant that rural communities where Welsh is the first spoken language are compelled to attend court in predominantly English-speaking areas, running the risk of disadvantage,” she continued.

Speaking before the justice select committee, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, highlighted the problems faced by many rural areas where court closures will hit the hardest. Some 86 courts are to be shut across England and Wales as the government looks to raise funds towards modernising the courts and tribunal service.

Ten courts across Wales are to be closed, and of these seven have shut already, including the historic 250-year-old Camarthen Law Courts and the civil and family court in Neath and Port Talbot.

The impact of the closures has been felt by magistrates too. Earlier this week, Malcolm Richardson JP, chairman of the MA, stated that the court closures and ongoing justice cuts had led to a number of resignations.

Should these resignations continue, there will be increased pressure on recruitment for an ageing magistracy. In October the justice committee, in consultation with the senior judiciary, called upon the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to carry out a workforce planning exercise and to create a kitemark scheme that recognises and rewards employers who support the magistracy.

It was also concluded that having a large cohort of magistrates approaching the age of retirement presented a great opportunity to promote diversity among those who are recruited to replace them.