Closing courts will prevent access to Justice

  • 17/09/2015

The threatened closure of local courts such as Macclesfield and Bolton whose work would be transferred to Manchester will prevent the elderly and vulnerable being able to exercise their fundamental rights according to Mark Heptinstall a partner at Slater Heelis and Vice President of Trafford Law Society.

He explained that, whilst the profession knew that court closures were coming as was very clear before the last election not least because some courts were underused, the scale of court closures, especially in the North West, are disproportionate and will have a catastrophic effect on those seeking to look to the Court for justice to be served.

The concern of lawyers like Mark is that access to justice and the administration of the law is not adversely effected. “We remain concerned that the process has not been fully thought out for example, how will the elderly and those on benefits or a low income pay for travel from the outer areas into the city especially in the peak hours when travel costs are higher” he asked? “What happens if buses trains are cancelled/delayed or there is an accident on the motorway? This will undoubtedly cause delay and potentially adjournments thus wasting court time. Orders that are made in default of attendance may then have to be set aside and the court administration including valuable Judge’s time will be wasted.”

Mark went on to ask how the vastly increased number of court users would navigate the already lengthy security queue at Manchester County Court. He believes there is insufficient meeting space for lawyers and their clients already. “What consideration has been given to increased cost owing to the closures? The government is very quick to criticise lawyers for fees but what they appear to ignore is that they are causing a situation that will inevitably increase fees for travel, time dealing with set asides and further unnecessary court hearings” he concluded

The overriding fear of local lawyers, according to Mark, is that some people will simply give up with frustration or worse still not bring a claim at all. This might be what the government wants in their drive to deter the public from the Courts, but this is not access to Justice nor the behaviour of a fair society

By Mark Heptinstall, Partner & Head of Family Slater Heelis LLP

Vice-President Trafford Law Society

On behalf of the Law Societies of Blackburn, Bolton, Bury & District, Macclesfield & East Cheshire, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside & Glossop, Trafford and Wigan,