Half the magistrates’ courts in Derbyshire have closed in the last decade, including the court in Ilkeston.
Cases that used to be heard at Ilkeston are now heard at Chesterfield or Derby after the Ilkeston court was closed as part of reforms by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
House of Commons library data reveals that two of the four magistrates’ courts in the area have shut since 2010:
- Ilkeston Magistrates’ Court
- Buxton Magistrates’ & County Court
The following courts remain open:
- Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court (Chesterfield Justice Centre)
- Derby Magistrates’ Court
More than half the magistrates’ courts in England and Wales have closed in the last decade.
Experts are concerned that sweeping court closures could deny people access to justice.
The MoJ reform programme was part of a drive to ‘improve access to justice’ by using technology, including having defendants entering pleas online and testifying remotely via video screen.
However, campaigners say this could hamper communication between defendants and their legal representatives.
In Derbyshire one court has been sold to a private buyer, raising £610,000 for the MoJ.
The Treasury has stipulated that £400 million of the MoJ’s £1.2 billion digital modernisation programme must be raised through the sale of courthouses. Across England and Wales, £223 million has been raised by closing 162 out of 323 magistrates’ courts.
Two courts were sold for just £1 each. Penelope Gibbs, director of legal charity Transform Justice, says the MoJ should assess the impact of video justice before spending money on expensive technology.
Ms Gibbs, a former magistrate, said: “The hidden story of virtual justice is of the harm the disconnect does to the relationship between lawyer and client. “Defendants appear alone, isolated from the court, their lawyer, court staff and family, with their ability to communicate hampered by poor technology.”
She added that the MoJ has ‘closed courts without having a replacement system in place’, leaving witnesses and defendants stranded.
The MoJ maintains that the programme will make access to justice easier and improve efficiency, particularly by closing under-used court houses.
Lucy Frazer MP, the Justice Minister, said: “The closure of any court is not taken lightly - it only happens following full public consultation and when communities have reasonable access to alternative courts.”