End of an era as courts close - So why are they doing it?

The Halifax coat of arms at Calderdale Magistrates Court.
The Halifax coat of arms at Calderdale Magistrates Court.

Calderdale Magistrates Court and County Court will be closed later this year under Government proposals.

The two courts were included on a list of dozens of courts nationally which the Ministry of Justice were set to axe.

Barbara Pickard, who has been a court usher at Calderdale magistrates court for 30 years, is pictured for Elaine's feature.

Barbara Pickard, who has been a court usher at Calderdale magistrates court for 30 years, is pictured for Elaine's feature.

During the consultation a total of 26 responses were received relating to Halifax County Court and Family Court closure and 24 responses related to Calderdale Magistrates’ Court.

The operations will now be moved to Bradford Combined Court.

So what were the reasons behind the court closures?

All the responses about the court closure made reference to access to justice for residents.

exterior of Halifax County Court, Halifax, for stock

exterior of Halifax County Court, Halifax, for stock

The report said: “Closing courts inevitably results in some people needing to travel further to reach their nearest court; this was the primary concern for many consultees. It is important to note that the nearest court is not always the one which people will be required to attend.

“For county courts, in some cases people can select the court where the case is heard but for other cases the venue is mandated based on the address of one of the parties. In some cases there is no need to attend court at all.

“In more rural areas we are committed to providing alternative ways to access our services, including (where appropriate) the use of other civic buildings.

“The court will consider applications to conduct business with the court by alternative means where possible. In exceptional cases start times of hearings may be delayed to allow later attendance due to travel difficulties, this would be considered on a case by case basis.

“The changes we are making will make it easier for people to access justice. Going to court can be very stressful, especially for vulnerable people. We are reforming the system so that fewer people will need to physically attend court.”

Among the concerns were the effect the closure would have on the law firms and economy with one response saying “The closure proposals ignore the impact on the local economy of moving all criminal and civil work to Bradford: at least eight criminal law firms and a similar number of civil law firms will have to close their offices and it is very doubtful indeed that many will be able to transfer offices and staff to Bradford.”

The analysis report said that whilst local economies may experience some impact in towns where courts and tribunals close, this is expected to be ‘slight and the overall effects minimal as services are transferred to areas nearby’.

The report also outlined that the operating costs at Halifax County Court and Family Court (£96,000) and investment needed for maintenance work would be more than the creation of one or two additional hearing rooms for district judges in Bradford

Proposals were put forward for both Halifax courts to be combined onto one site.

However, the report said: “In an increasingly digital age, users will not always need to attend hearings in person in order to access the justice system and whilst we have already established alternative ways users can interact with our services, we are looking to expand these provisions to provide more choice than is currently available.

“We also need to reduce the current costs of running our estate by increasing the utilisation rate at our courts.”

The HM Courts and Tribunal service said the proposed closure of Halifax (Calderdale) Magistrates’ and Family Court requires no enabling works and the overall savings from the closure of both Halifax sites will be greater than any sums which may be required for any enabling works in Bradford Combined Court.

Some consideration will be given to work being listed at Kirklees Magistrates’ Court in relation to the geographical location of court users and to ensure that access to justice is maintained, including in more rural locations.