Court hearing for motoring offences are to be held in universities as well as town halls and community centres after ministers announced plans to shut almost one in five Magistartes Courts across the country.
A total of 86 court buildings will be shut and sold off in England and Wales as part of a £700 million revamp to modernise the justice system, it was announced on Thursday 11th February.
Over the past 3 years years Magistrates Courts across South Wales have been closed including Barry Magistrates Court, Caerphilly Magistrates Court and Port Talbot Magistrates Court. It is expected that both Pontypridd and Bridgend Magistrates Court will also be closed in the near future. The MOJ has attempted to create Court centers that specialise in the prosecution of motoring offences. For example, both Cardiff and Newport Magistrates Court have specified days upon which motoring offences are listed before the Court, engaging specialist police prosecutors to present the cases. Alternative venues will instead be used to hold criminal and motoring hearings including “civic buildings, universities and community centres”, the Ministry of Justice announced. Motoring offences will also be increasingly dealt with online or via video link hearings meaning thousands of motorists will no longer be required to attend Court.
Malcolm Richardson, chairman of the Magistrates Association, said: “Whilst the case was clear for some of the closures, others will be seen as additional chipping away at the provision of local and accessible justice. We made the case to the Ministry of Justice that many closures would have a biting impact on court-users, many of whom rely on public transport”. However Justice minister Shailesh Vara said the courts being closed were used for only a third of their available time on average and many were unsuited to the use of modern technology. The £700 million investment over the next four years will include the installation of modern IT systems and Wi-Fi to allow online plea, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing, reducing the need for people to travel to court, he said.
We can therefore expect to see the implementation of ‘virtual prosecutions’ for motoring offences at civic centers and public buildings over the next 5 years.