MP calls for action over courts backlogs amid closures

An MP is calling on the Government to get to grips with backlogs after it emerged that barely half of constituencies have an active court in operation.

Short lived Sandwell Magistrates Court in Oldbury
Short lived Sandwell Magistrates Court in Oldbury

Bar Council researchers have found that more than two in five courts have closed in the past decade due to cutbacks. There were 239 closures in England and Wales in the last 12 years, resulting in just over half or 57 per cent remaining open.

The number includes criminal courts such as crown and magistrates courts, as well as family, county and any other court. There are currently 373 parliamentary constituencies without an active local court.

Short lived Sandwell Magistrates Court in Oldbury

Magistrates courts to be closed by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service between 2010 and 2017 include West Bromwich, Stafford and Halesowen. Aldridge closed in 2006.

In Shropshire, magistrates buildings in Ludlow, Oswestry; and Market Drayton all closed in 2011-2012 with Shrewsbury's shutting in 2015-2016. The county is currently served by Telford Magistrates Court with in custody cases sent to Kidderminster instead.

No courts are operating in Sandwell, meaning borough cases are heard in Dudley, Walsall, Birmingham or Wolverhampton instead.

Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden said: "It's not just the courts. There are backlogs in area after area whether its the courts, trying to get GP appointments, passport and driving licence.

"In more and more areas things are taking much longer than they used to and all these have become features of Boris Johnson's 'backlog Britain'. I believe the Government has to get a grip on the delays and queues which are affecting more and more areas of public life and at the moment they are failing to do that.

"I have found constituents who have had a number of hearings being repeatedly delayed because of these problems with courts and this is causing frustration for people seeking justice and for those seeking resolution to their legal issues."

The former Stafford Magistrates Court in South Walls, Stafford. Photo: Google Maps

The figures come as criminal barristers have voted to walk out in a row over legal aid funding.

The highest closure rate was in Wales, where 21 of 36 criminal courts have closed.

The latest figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service show there were 358,076 outstanding cases at the magistrates court, and 58,271 outstanding cases at the crown court, as of April 2022.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "All closed sites were shut because they were either underused, due maintenance work or too close to another.

"Our £1.3 billion investment to modernise courts means access to justice is no longer solely reliant on going to a court building, with thousands now using services or going to hearings online.

"The crown court backlog has fallen and we are giving criminal barristers a £7,000 pay rise as we restore the swift access to justice people deserve."

Wolverhampton Crown Court overspill cases were previously heard at The Waterfront, in Brierley Hill, before moving to facilities at Wolverhampton Magistrates Court. The pressure on services resulted in so-called Nightingale courts being set up in hotel sites in Wolverhampton and Walsall, and at Telford's former family court to reduce cases.

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