HC Deb 23 February 1999 vol 326 c178
34. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement on his policy on the closure of rural magistrates courts. [70855]

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The Government's policy is that the administration of magistrates courts is best decided locally, consistent with the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997—legislation that we inherited from the previous Government. A local authority that contributes financially may appeal to the Lord Chancellor against a proposed closure. The procedure for such appeals is also set out in section 56 of the 1997 Act. In the absence of an appeal, the Lord Chancellor plays no part in the process.

Mr. Swayne

Magistrates courts are not volunteering for closure: these closures are a consequence of the Minister's policy. How many rural magistrates courts have closed since the hon. Gentleman took up his responsibilities?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman is right so suggest that magistrates courts are not volunteering for closure. The local magistrates courts committees, which are responsible for them, are taking those decisions.