UK coalition to shut courts, sell forensics agency

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.

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