Two of Hertfordshire's six magistrates' courts have closed since 2010

Two of Hertfordshire's six magistrates' courts have closed over the last decade, new data reveals.

Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 2:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:52 pm
Two of Hertfordshire's six magistrates' courts have closed since 2010

House of Commons library data reveals the following magistrates' courts in Hertfordshire have closed since 2010:

Hemel Hempstead Magistrates' Court

Watford Magistrates' Court

Two of Hertfordshire's six magistrates' courts have closed since 2010

The following courts remain open:

Hatfield Magistrates' Court

St Albans Magistrates' Court

Staines Magistrates' Court and Family Court

Stevenage Magistrates' Court

Legal experts have expressed concern that widespread court closures could be denying people access to justice.

More than half the magistrates' courts in England and Wales have closed - part of reforms by the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

They aim to "improve access to justice" by using technology, including having defendants entering pleas online and testifying remotely via video screen.

However, campaigners say this could hamper communication between defendants and their legal representatives.

In Hertfordshire one court has been sold to a private buyer, raising £650,000 for the MoJ.

The Treasury has stipulated that £400 million of the MoJ's £1.2 billion digital modernisation programme must be raised through the sale of courthouses.

Across England and Wales, £223 million has been raised by closing 162 out of 323 magistrates' courts.

Two courts were sold for just £1 each.

Penelope Gibbs, director of legal charity Transform Justice, says the MoJ should assess the impact of video justice before spending money on expensive technology.

Ms Gibbs, a former magistrate, said: "The hidden story of virtual justice is of the harm the disconnect does to the relationship between lawyer and client.

"Defendants appear alone, isolated from the court, their lawyer, court staff and family, with their ability to communicate hampered by poor technology."

She added that the MoJ has "closed courts without having a replacement system in place", leaving witnesses and defendants stranded.

The MoJ maintains that the programme will make access to justice easier and improve efficiency, particularly by closing under-used court houses.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: "The closure of any court is not taken lightly - it only happens following full public consultation and when communities have reasonable access to alternative courts."