THE old adage that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done remains as true now as it ever was, yet an overhaul of the courts system is seemingly less than transparent when it comes to the benefits that it is intended to achieve.
Closure of courts in Yorkshire has been a matter of concern for some time – even before the news that the Government is struggling to implement a costly ‘modernisation’ of the justice system.
Some 19 courts have shut, half of them in West Yorkshire, as a policy of centralising proceedings into the major cities has been implemented. This has serious implications for the delivery of justice locally, potentially making it more difficult for witnesses to attend, or those who have been the victims of crime being able to be present when offenders are sentenced. Law firms have also warned of economic consequences as they move their businesses away from the towns affected in order to be nearer the large court centres.
The Government should heed the warning from the National Audit Office that the £1.2bn modernisation of the justice system is behind schedule, facing funding gaps and at risk of failing to achieve its aims. Effective justice is fundamental to the operation of a civilised society, and there must be serious questions over how a comprehensive overhaul has been allowed to run into such difficulties.
Whether the problems relate to poor planning of what are admittedly large-scale and complex reforms, or inadequate delivery, it is incumbent upon the Ministry of Justice to get a grip and ensure that the changes are delivered efficiently, on time and within budget.