On Thursday 24th June 2010 the Ministry of Justice outlined proposals that will result in nearly a third of all Courts in England and Wales being closed.
The closures affect both County Courts, that deal with civil and family work, and Magistrates Courts, that deal with criminal and family work.
The effect of this in the Pontefract area will be the closure of both the Pontefract County Court and Pontefract Magistrates Court. The nearest Court to Pontefract will be Wakefield some 25 miles away return.
Clearly this will have a considerable impact upon people who use the Courts in the Pontefract and surrounding area.
Most of that impact will be felt by people who cannot afford legal representation, are not eligible for Public Funding, what used to be known as Legal Aid, and the infirm, disabled and elderly who at the present time find it difficult to travel to their local Court in Pontefract and will find it even more of a difficulty to travel a greater distance. This begs the question as to whether these people are being deprived of their right of access to justice in what the Government describes as “cost cutting measures”.
The Government’s intention is to save some £36 million a year but one has to wonder at what price.
The types of cases dealt with by these Courts include not only civil disputes but also, and perhaps more seriously, cases involving applications for people to be allowed to have contact with their children and indeed even have their children living with them.
It has always been the intention of successive Governments, and indeed of the Courts themselves, to regard going to Court to have the dispute resolved as being a last resort and other ways of resolving disputes through mediation, negotiations and otherwise have become more important. To that end Courts refer cases for mediation.
Hartley & Worstenholme Solicitors are one of only a small number of solicitors in the local area who offer family mediation, see www.hartley-worstenholme.co.uk/category/news/. This is obviously the preferred course of action for all parties but in instances where this breaks down the lack of access to a local Court could well seriously disadvantage more vulnerable members of society and only time will tell as to whether the closure of local Courts, in particular the Pontefract County Court, is a good or bad thing.
Lisa Lister, Director, Progress Marketing Ltd, Tel: 01924 849 335