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Courts (Access)

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will publish his strategy for the distribution of and provision of access to magistrates, crown, county and high court centres; and if he will make a statement. [49129]

Mr. Hoon: Magistrates courts are locally managed by magistrates courts committees under the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997. Decisions concerning the future and number of magistrates courts in their area are for the relevant MCC to determine. A local authority that contributes financially may appeal to the Lord Chancellor against a proposed closure. The procedure for such appeals is set out in section 56 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997. In the absence of an appeal, however, the Lord Chancellor plays no part in the process.

The Court Service Agency is responsible for all civil and the higher criminal courts. It keeps court accommodation under constant review. In relation to the civil courts the Lord Chancellor is considering how and when the current changes in the working methods and procedures might create opportunities for better use of resources whilst maintaining similar or improved levels of facilities and services. No major changes to the current number or distribution of criminal centres are planned.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what criteria in respect of the public's travelling time, distance and cost he takes into account when considering the closure of any court. [49126]

Mr. Hoon: There are no specific cost or time thresholds which need to be breached before a closure proposal would be refused. Whilst distance and cost are important considerations, public facilities at the courts,

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waiting times, workload levels, and the overall standard of service which can be made available over the area as a whole also need to be taken into account.

Departmental Vehicles

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will list for (a) his Department and (b) bodies listed in the National Asset Register, how many vehicles are currently (i) owned and (ii) leased; if he will indicate their (A) fuel types and (B) engine cubic capacities; and how many vehicles are expected to fall due for replacement in each of the years (1) 1998-99, (2) 1999-2000 and (3) 2000-01. [49224]

Mr. Hoon: The information requested is shown in the table.

Leased vehicles

The Court Service
Fuel
Petrol36
Diesel570
Engine cc
12001
13001
14004
160016
170039
1800366
1900152
200022
21001
22003
25001
Replacement date
1998-1999403
1999-2000153
2000-200150

Owned vehicles

Lord Chancellor's Department HQThe Court ServiceNorthern Ireland Court ServiceHM Land Registry
Fuel
Petrol153--1
Diesel11141
Engine cc
15002------
160031----
1800------33
1900--1----
2000102--9
23001------
5681--1----
Replacement date
1998-199944--10
1999-20005----4
2000-20017--18

County Courts

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will list those county courts which have been closed in each of the last four years for which figures are available. [49121]

Mr. Hoon: A list of the county courts closed in the last four years is shown.

Court closures 1994-98

CourtDate of closurePost closure jurisdiction
Devizes(9)1 April 1994Trowbridge
Frome(9)1 April 1994Trowbridge
Clacton(9)5 April 1994Colchester
Sevenoaks(9)5 April 1994Tunbridge Wells
Sheerness(9)5 April 1994Sittingbourne
Sudbury5 April 1994Bury St. Edmunds, Braintree, Colchester and Ipswich
Bangor4 July 1994Caernarfon
Portmadog(10)4 July 1994Caernarfon
Stroud4 July 1994Gloucester
Stockton-on-Tees2 November 1994Resited to form the Teesside Combined Court Centre
Lampeter5 December 1994Aberystwyth and Carmarthen
Launceston(9) (10)5 December 1994Bodmin
Liskeard(9) (10)5 December 1994Bodmin
Ellesmere Port(10)5 December 1994Chester
Axminster and Chard(9) (10)5 December 1994Yeovil
Shaftesbury(9) (10)5 December 1994Yeovil
Amersham9 January 1995Aylesbury, Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Slough, Uxbridge and Watford
Wisbech29 September 1995King's Lynn
Market Drayton27 October 1995Shrewsbury and Stoke on Trent
Brentwood29 December 1995Subsumed by the creation of the Basildon Combined Court Centre
Bargoed29 December 1995Blackwood
Barry29 December 1995Cardiff
Cardigan(9) (10)29 December 1995Carmarthen
Llandrindod Wells(9) (10)29 December 1995Brecknock
Otley(10)2 January 1996Bradford, Harrogate, Leeds and Skipton
Alfreton16 February 1996Chesterfield, Derby, Mansfield and Nottingham
Ilkeston16 February 1996Derby and Nottingham
Matlock16 February 1996Buxton, Chesterfield and Derby
Sleaford16 February 1996Boston, Grantham, Lincoln and Newark
Spalding16 February 1996Boston, Grantham and Peterborough
Dover(10)29 March 1996Canterbury
Folkestone(10)29 March 1996Ashford
Newton Abbot(10)29 March 1996Amalgamated with Torquay
Sittingbourne(10)29 March 1996Maidstone and Medway
St. Austell29 March 1996Bodmin and Truro
Chippenham(10)30 April 1996Swindon and Trowbridge
Goole(9)4 November 1996Doncaster
Ammanford(10)27 March 1997Swansea, Carmarthen and Llanelli
Andover(10)30 June 1997Basingstoke, Salisbury, Winchester
Braintree(10)1 December 1997Chelmsford, Harlow and Colchester
Bishop's Stortford1 December 1997Cambridge, Harlow and Hitchin
Alnwick(10)15 December 1997Morpeth
Blyth15 December 1997Morpeth
Berwick upon Tweed(9)15 December 1997Amalgamated with Morpeth
Bridlington(10)24 December 1997Scarborough

(9) Courts with caller office status

(10) Courts where Circuit Administrators have undertaken to continue local District Judge sittings in suitable accommodation subject to demand

Note:

Two county court closures have been announced recently: Rochdale County Court and Holywell County Court will close on 7 September 1998


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Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what plans he has to implement the Middleton report's recommendation on county courts closures alongside the Woolf report's recommendation that the report's civil justice reforms should be introduced by April 1999. [49128]

Mr. Hoon: The Lord Chancellor does not consider the Middleton Report's recommendations for widespread county court closures, without providing services in other ways, as the right way forward and has no plans to implement them.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many county courts there are currently in England and Wales; which have facilities for hearings in open court; which have family, bankruptcy and district registry jurisdictions; and if he will list those which his Department or the Court Service

6 Jul 1998 : Column: 382

are currently considering for or consulting on closure (a) in the current financial year and (b) in each of the next four years. [49120]

Mr. Hoon: There are currently 233 county courts in England and Wales. With the closure of Rochdale County Court and Holywell County Court in September 1998 the number will be 231. All the county courts have facilities for hearings in open court. 177 county courts have family jurisdiction. In September, with the closure of Rochdale County Court, there will be 176. 112 county courts have bankruptcy jurisdiction. With the closure of Rochdale County Court there will be 111. 135 county courts have a district registry. When Rochdale County Court closes there will be 134.

In the last financial year the Lord Chancellor gave permission to go to public consultation on the following county courts: Hemel Hempstead, Holywell, Rochdale,

6 Jul 1998 : Column: 383

Camborne & Redruth, Poole, Shrewsbury, West Bromwich and Evesham.

The only other permission given by the Lord Chancellor to go to public consultation relates to the current financial year and is in respect of Corby and Loughborough County Courts.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what was the reduction in (a) revenue and (b) capital budgets of the Court Service as a consequence of the closures of county courts in each of the last four years for which figures are available. [49122]

Mr. Hoon: There has been no reduction in either revenue or capital budgets as a direct result of court closures.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department how many Court Service or Lord Chancellor's Department jobs were abolished as a result of county court closures in the last four years. [49124]

Mr. Hoon: The business case in support of a proposal for closure of a county court must give information on the numbers and grades of staff together with details of their redeployment. Any reduction in staff numbers is a result of a fall in civil business generally and not of court closures.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what assessment he has made of the Middleton report's recommendation that on financial grounds large numbers of county courts should be closed; and if he will make a statement in that regard about his policy of increasing access to justice. [49127]

Mr. Hoon: The civil justice reforms on which Sir Peter Middleton reported form only part of major current changes in the working methods and procedures of the civil courts. The Lord Chancellor is considering how, and when, those changes might create opportunities for better use of resources while maintaining similar or improved levels of facilities and services. This is a better way forward than the wholesale closures recommended in the Middleton report. Court accommodation is kept under continuous review and proposals for the closure of courts are considered on an individual basis.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what assessment he has made of the financial implications of county court closures for (a) the Legal Aid Board and (b) non-legally aided litigants. [49123]

Mr. Hoon: There are no specific financial thresholds that need to be breached before a closure proposal would be refused. Whilst financial implications are important considerations, the costs and practical implications of running a court, the public facilities, waiting times, workload levels and the overall standard of service that can be made available over the area as a whole also need to be taken into account.

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department on how many occasions in the last four years for which figures are available his Department or the Court Service has consulted the public

6 Jul 1998 : Column: 384

about a proposed county court closure in England and Wales and, as a consequence, not closed the court, identifying in each case the court in question. [49125]

Mr. Hoon: In the last four years two county courts have remained open following public consultation. Closure of Gravesend County Court was not taken forward after consultation in 1994. Kettering County Court, proposed for closure in 1993 was later relocated within Kettering in more satisfactory accommodation.


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