HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc331-2W
Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on his policy towards the availability and provision of court services in rural areas. [56844]

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 when such a proposal has been made by a local MCC. 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 is responsible for all civil and the higher criminal courts and is required constantly to monitor and review the viability of its court network. Factors taken into consideration include the role played by the court in providing a service to the public in that area, and the effect and implications of providing an alternative for its current users. The criteria for considering the case for and against closure as set out in the Departmental Accommodation Plan are: the condition of the existing accommodation; the availability of facilities; the frequency of judicial visits and waiting times; the facilities provided by the alternative court; and the capacity of that court to cater for the additional work; and distances and public transport considerations. In general, the Court service must look to improve services to an area overall.

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