Town hall chambers 'could be used as courts'

Image caption A decision on court closures is expected later this year, the Ministry of Justice said

Town halls could be used as courts to raise council funds and increase the speed of justice, councils have said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) made the suggestion for a government consultation on closing scores of courts across England and Wales.

The LGA said closures could raise serious issues surrounding travel time to cases and the speed of proceedings.

The Ministry of Justice said they were looking at how justice can best be delivered in England and Wales.

The Ministry of Justice is considering closing up to 103 magistrates' courts and 54 county courts across England and Wales, the LGA said.

Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "Many town hall chambers would provide the perfect setting for court hearings, with some having existing courtroom facilities.

'More than adequate'

"Local authorities are well aware of the sensitivities of keeping victims and witnesses safe.

"Although specialist courts are needed in some cases, in the vast majority of court cases, council buildings would be more than adequate.

"It would certainly overcome the problem for rural communities and could maybe provide a boost for council budgets if hire costs were considered."

The LGA said it was concerned that the planned court closures could raise serious issues over the time taken for cases to come to court and for witnesses and victims to attend.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The consultations are part of the process to review how justice might in the future best be delivered in each area across England and Wales.

"The responses to each document will now be studied in detail, including consideration of alternative proposals from respondents, and the impact of each proposed closure analysed fully.

"Recommendations will then be made to the lord chancellor who will decide, in each case, whether or not to close the courts and whether to merge any local justice areas. We anticipate that he will make his decisions later this year."

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