October 7, 2015

Bath Magistrates’ and County Court under threat of closure

Bath Magistrates' Court

Bath Magistrates’ and County Court under threat

Bath Magistrates’ and County Court is one of the identified courts under threat. At Royds Withy King, we have close links with the Court and we are of course keenly interested to see proper provision for access to justice for the Bath area residents. We have consistently received excellent service from Bath Magistrates’ and County Court. The consultation paper states that in the last year over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than fifty per cent of their available hearing time. In our experience, Bath is not one of those courts and it is likely other legal professionals will say the same about their local court which is at risk of closing.

The effect of the proposed closure on professionals

Until March 2012, when issuing legal proceedings, the necessary paperwork could be sent or taken to any of the local county courts throughout England and Wales. We primarily issued proceedings in Bath County Court. Since March 2012, in order to alleviate the pressures on local county courts, a new, centralised process was introduced whereby most money claims have to be issued out of the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) based in Northampton. This system was introduced to speed up and streamline the process but in reality, the CCMCC often has a backlog meaning that it can take two weeks for proceedings to be issued.

Usually, personal injury claims must be issued in court within three years of the date of accident. Sometimes it is necessary to issue proceedings close to the end of this period. On these occasions it is essential to be able to attend Bath County Court in order to get court paperwork date-stamped to avoid a claim being statute-barred.

The effect of the proposed closure on our clients

It has been suggested that attending court is rare for most people and will become even more rare as digital technology allows for more efficient access to justice. It is however not true to say that fewer buildings are needed because of this; frequently court hearings must be attended in person and costs would soar if extra time and expense had to be incurred in the travelling to other courts further afield.

In our view, Bath Courts are not underused and/or in poor quality; in fact, the Court building was only recently refurbished. Bath is a big city with both a Magistrates’ and County Court, and not to have local court facilities in the city would have a significant effect on many individuals, including those who are most vulnerable and cannot afford travel costs.

Opinion

If the Bath Courts were to close, the vast majority of cases would be transferred to Bristol. This would have at least two negative consequences: an increase in travel time and costs, and of more concern, longer delays for cases to be heard.

We strongly believe that court closures will not provide better access to justice. Instead, the closure of these courts will have a serious detrimental effect on the local community, particularly the most vulnerable.

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