Shropshire public's long journeys for justice after closure of court buildings

Closure of court buildings around Shropshire means people having to use unreliable public transport to access hearings, new research has found.

The building formerly used as Market Drayton's magistrates' court. Photo: Google
The building formerly used as Market Drayton's magistrates' court. Photo: Google

Researchers have found that nationally more than two in five courts have closed in the past decade, meaning barely half of constituencies have an active court in operation.

Magistrates' courts in Ludlow, Oswestry and Market Drayton were all closed by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service in 2011-2012 with Shrewsbury’s shutting in 2015-2016. The county is currently served by Telford Magistrates Court with custody cases sent to Kidderminster instead.

The research by the Bar Council indicates there were 239 closures in England and Wales in the last 12 years, resulting in a little over half or 57 per cent remaining open.

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

The old court building in Oswestry. Photo: Google

Solicitor Stephen Scully, of Lanyon Bowdler's Shrewsbury branch, said: "In Shropshire we're down to one magistrates' court at Telford down from having about half a dozen at one stage.

"This is a large county where public transport is not very good. In the Black Country there is roughly a 10-mile distance between the courts, but here the courts are considerably further and this is further exacerbated by having the remand custody in Kidderminster."

The highest closure rate was in Wales where 21 of 36 criminal courts or around 58 per cent have closed.

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.”

The pressure on services resulted in so-called Nightingale courts being set up in at Telford’s former family court to reduce cases and hotel sites in Wolverhampton and Walsall.

In neighbouring regions magistrates' courts to close between 2010 and 2017 include West Bromwich; Sandwell; Stafford; and Halesowen. There are no courts operating in Sandwell borough resulting in its cases being heard in Dudley, Walsall, Birmingham or Wolverhampton instead.

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