LIKE all public services, HM Courts & Tribunals Service should be moving with the times, making sure cases are dealt with expeditiously and utilising new technology.
Yet this does not excuse the dismantling of the magistrates court network without giving proper thought for the most important people of all – victims of crime and those witnesses required to give evidence.
An issue brought into sharp focus by the short-sighted proposal to shut Northallerton’s court and force those concerned to travel up to 40 miles in an area not renowned for its public transport, today’s Public Accounts Report vindicates previous calls for the Government to impose a moratorium on the closure programme before lasting damage is done to the integrity of the criminal justice system.
As it says, the Ministry of Justice – whose previous incumbents include a certain Chris Grayling – has not properly considered the impact of this £1.2bn modernisation programme on the issue of access and the role of local courts. It finds Ministers guilty of cutting corners in trying to implement an “unrealistic” plan that is likely to have “unforeseen consequences for taxpayers, service users and justice”.
Coming a day after Baroness Helen Newlove, the Victims Commissioner, revealed how compensation payments to victims were being delayed, or not paid at all, because of the inability of the courts to enforce them, the Government clearly needs to think again. And it does not end here. By making courts more remote, and inaccessible, it is harder for media organisations, like The Yorkshire Post and sister titles, to report proceedings and ensure that criminality and wrongdoing is brought to the wider public’s attention and, hopefully, deter other miscreants. This, too, is now at risk if Ministers continue to put a financial price on open justice, one of the supposed pillars of British society.