Law Society backs bid to keep Corby and Kettering magistrates courts open

The magistrates courts in Corby and Kettering should not be closed, says the national body which represents solicitors
The magistrates courts in Corby and Kettering should not be closed, says the national body which represents solicitors

The magistrates courts in Corby and Kettering should not be closed, says the national body which represents solicitors.

The Law Society was responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to close 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, and integrate or merge 31 more.

A statement from the society said: “If Corby and Kettering were to close, Northamptonshire would be served by just two magistrates courts.

“This would place additional strain on the two remaining courts and substantially reduce access to justice for court users, who would have to travel further to reach court.

“The consultation paper states that 60 per cent of people who currently use Corby would need to travel for one to two hours by public transport to reach Wellingborough Magistrates Court instead, at a cost of £11.80.

“Our members tell us that many court users in Corby are on benefits, and £11.80 represents a huge proportion of the weekly jobseekers’ allowance.

“These people will struggle to meet the cost of travelling to Wellingborough.

“In addition, the consultation paper states that 86 per cent of people who currently use Kettering would need to travel to Wellingborough, compared to just six per cent of users currently.

“Kettering Magistrates Court is a busy court that deals with a range of adult and youth criminal matters as well as tribunal work.

“For these reasons, the Law Society recommends that Corby and Kettering magistrates courts remains open.”

The society also recommends that Kettering County Court not only remain open, but be improved.

Its statement continued: “Its closure would mean 60 per cent of Kettering County Court users would have a journey time of over one hour to Northampton by public transport.

“This represents a significant reduction in access to justice.

“The MoJ proposes to transfer Kettering County Court’s workload to Northampton Crown Court, County Court and Family Court hearing centre.

“The consultation paper states that works would be needed at Northampton to allow this, including the creation of a multi-jurisdictional open plan office, an additional courtroom and a centralised storage facility.

“The MoJ has not specified the likely costs of those enabling works.

“The Law Society recommends that Kettering County Court remains open and that money that would be spent on works at Northampton be used to improve the facilities at Kettering.

“Alternatively, the society would recommend that cases be transferred to Kettering Magistrates’ Court.

“The latter is currently open four days a week – transferring cases from Kettering County Court there would mean that more efficient use could be made of Kettering Magistrates Court and court services could be centralised into one location in Kettering, thus maintaining local access to justice.”

Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “The proposed closure of Corby Magistrates’ Court will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court, and the closures will more adversely affect people with disabilities and lower income families.

“Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, this closure will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone in England and Wales must be able to access legal advice and the justice system.”