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Government claims Welsh court closures are for the better

Gavel and legal booksThe government has confirmed that 22 magistrates' courts were closed in Wales during the past eight years - but have insisted that these changes have been made for the better.

Justice minister Lord Keen of Elie QC recently responded to a written parliamentary question that was put forward by Labour peer Lord Jones (Stephen Barry Jones). Keen's response stated that Wales had 36 magistrates' courts in total back in 2010, and this had been reduced to just 14 by 2014.

Keen claims that the court closures took place following public consultation, and only at a time when the lord chancellor was completely satisfied that effective access to justice could be successfully maintained within Wales.

Courts closed so resources can be better concentrated

Lord Keen went on to say that poor quality, smaller and less efficient courts have been closed so that resources can be better concentrated into a lower number of higher quality and more flexible buildings.

The 22 courts that have been closed across Wales include courts in Aberdare, Abertillery, Barry, Cardigan, Chepstow, Denbigh, Flint, Llangefni, Pwllheli, Neath, Caerphilly, Brecon and Bridgend law courts, Dolgellau Crown and Magistrates' Court, Holyhead and Prestatyn.

Some MPs warn against closures

Back in 2013, Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, warned that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would have a difficult time on its hands if it opted to close the remaining courts within his west Wales constituency.

Llwyd, a qualified barrister, said at the time of the Pwllheli Magistrates' Court closure in 2011 that the decision had left a negative impact on his constituency. He said that not only had issues been created regarding access to justice, but it also resulted in a lack of good JPs coming forward as they are reluctant to travel 55 miles to the nearest court in Caernarfon. 

Decisions are never taken lightly

Last month, Lord Keen said that the closure of any court is never taken lightly and it only happens following a full public consultation. He said that the government has been clear that courts are only being closed when they are deemed as being underused, dilapidated or too close in proximity to another.

While responding to separate questions about court closures submitted by Labour peer and solicitor Lord Beecham (Jeremy Beecham) earlier in the year, Keen said that the HM Courts & Tribunals Service takes several factors into account when assessing and considering the impact that a court closure will have on access to justice. These considerations include things such as journey times to alternative courts, the challenges of rural access and the important needs of vulnerable users.

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