Worksop was part of sweeping closure programme of magistrates' courts in the UK

More than half the magistrates' courts in England and Wales have closed in the last decade, including the court in Worksop in where the last criminal cases there were heard in 2014.

By John Smith
Thursday, 31st January 2019, 7:05 pm
Updated Friday, 1st February 2019, 8:28 am
Several magistrates' courts have been closed by the MoJ in the last decade
Several magistrates' courts have been closed by the MoJ in the last decade

Cases that used to be heard at Worksop are now heard at Mansfield after the Worksop court was closed as part of reforms by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Experts are concerned that sweeping court closures could deny people access to justice.

The MoJ reform programme was part of a drive to 'improve access to justice' by using technology, including having defendants entering pleas online and testifying remotely via video screen.

However, campaigners say this could hamper communication between defendants and their legal representatives.

The Treasury has stipulated that £400 million of the MoJ's £1.2 billion digital modernisation programme must be raised through the sale of courthouses.

Across England and Wales, £223 million has been raised by closing 162 out of 323 magistrates' courts.

Two courts were sold for just £1 each.

Penelope Gibbs, director of legal charity Transform Justice, says the MoJ should assess the impact of video justice before spending money on expensive technology.

Ms Gibbs, a former magistrate, said: "The hidden story of virtual justice is of the harm the disconnect does to the relationship between lawyer and client.

"Defendants appear alone, isolated from the court, their lawyer, court staff and family, with their ability to communicate hampered by poor technology."

She added that the MoJ has 'closed courts without having a replacement system in place', leaving witnesses and defendants stranded.

The MoJ maintains that the programme will make access to justice easier and improve efficiency, particularly by closing under-used court houses.

Lucy Frazer MP, the Justice Minister, said: "The closure of any court is not taken lightly - it only happens following full public consultation and when communities have reasonable access to alternative courts."