The proposed closure of Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court will deepen inequalities in justice system, said the Law Society today (October 8).
The Society has responded to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to close 91 courts and tribunals, which is one fifth of courts and tribunals across England and Wales, and integrate or merge 31 more.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said, “The proposed closure of Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court, and the closures will more adversely affect people with disabilities and lower income families.
“Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, this closure will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone in England and Wales must be able to access legal advice and the justice system.”
A Law Society spokesperson added, “The Law Society disagrees with the proposal to close Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court.
“Our members are concerned that the consultation paper does not take into account that the usage will increase from October 2015 when the fast track cases for Sussex are transferred to Eastbourne.
“Our members tell us that this court is already very busy, with 50 to 60 possession cases heard each month and considerable waiting times.
“Members are also concerned about the impact that taking on additional work would have on the proposed alternative courts of Hastings and Brighton, especially as the latter already has a backlog of work.
“Finally, our members praise the court staff in Eastbourne and argue that closing the court would mean losing an efficient, knowledgeable and experienced team. Members are also concerned about the impact of the proposed closure on access to justice.
“The proposed alternative is Hastings, approximately 20 miles away, or Brighton, approximately 45 minutes away.
“Members are concerned that the travel times given do not take account of road conditions or the fact that roads to those locations are often congested in summer due to tourist traffic.
“The Law Society reiterates its concerns about the impact of longer, more expensive journey times on victims, witnesses, defendants and jurors, particularly those on low incomes, that are set out in our main consultation response.
“For these reasons, the Society recommends that Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court remain open.”
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