Given the billions of pounds which need to be cut from central government spending, it is unsurprising that the Ministry of Justice’s budget faces major cuts. The recent figure of £2 billion of cuts from the Ministry’s budget and the resulting fears for 15,000 jobs is enough to send a shudder down the spine of anybody reliant upon the court system.
In June, the Ministry announced a consultation on the closure of 103 Magistrates’ and 54 County Courts in England and Wales. There are concerns that this is the start of a major reduction in the court network and that the move to centralise court functions will increase. In Harrogate, we are very fortunate that, at present, there are no current proposals to close either our magistrates’ or county court, but many other towns, from Ashford to Penrith and Penzance to Consett will not be so lucky. More locally, Skipton, Keighley, Pontefract and Goole all look like they are in for the chop. The Ministry anticipates that the proposed closures will save £15.3 million a year in running costs, and a further £21.5 million on maintenance costs. A lot of money by anybody’s standards, but a miniscule amount compared with the £156 billion budget deficit. It is widely acknowledged that everything that can be done should be done to ensure that waste in the system is reduced, but cuts on the scale proposed run a risk of damaging the already-strained court service.
As a firm that carries out a wide range of work in the local courts, the fact that Harrogate is not named as part of the ‘consultation’ is a great relief. The service which we are able to provide to our clients is greatly enhanced by the proximity of an efficient local court, which has experienced and dedicated staff. The effective service offered by the court staff at all levels is easily overlooked but is, in fact, a real benefit to the local community. However, even if our court is not immediately affected, there must be a real risk that the pressures on the system will increase as work which had been done elsewhere is added to the existing load. If the court service is to be believed, the reduction in waste and the use of new technology, will enhance the service presently offered. Let’s hope this is correct, and that the system is able to adapt to the demands of austerity Britain.