LONDON, (Reuters) – More than 140 courts are set to close in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice said yesterday, in the latest move to cut government spending.
The coalition also said it was also planning to dispose of the government’s forensics agency, which checks crime scene evidence for police forces in England and Wales and employs around 1,650 staff.
Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said the courts closure would include 93 magistrates’ courts and 49 county courts.
“An estate of over 500 court buildings is not now necessary or sustainable,” said Djanogly.
“We are closing the worst courts in the estate — so we can concentrate our limited resources on the best ones,” Djanogly said, adding that some new buildings were being constructed and other courthouses refurbished.
“There will be longer journeys for some to their closest court but we should not operate courts just to shave minutes off a journey that many will never need to make.”
The closures will save around 41.5 million pounds, on top of a possible 38.5 million from the sale of assets, the Ministry of Justice said.
Twenty-two million pounds will be re-invested in the courts which pick up the work of those closed.
But opposition Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Slaughter disputed the coalition’s justification for the move.
“Isn’t it true that this is a crude, cost-cutting exercise with none of the benefits he (Djanogly) claims,” Slaughter said.
In a separate development, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said operations of the Forensic Science Service would be sold off or transferred by March 2012.
He said commercial rivals, many established by former FSS staff, had taken market share away from the agency, leading it to lose around 2 million pounds a month.
“We want to see the UK forensic science industry operating as a genuine market, with private sector providers competing to provide innovative services at the lowest cost,” Brokenshire said.