While I am pleased that Abergavenny is retaining it's Magistrates Court, I am very disappointed that Abertillery and Chepstow will lose their Magistrates' Court's and disappointed that both Chepstow and Pontypool are both going to lose their County Court's. These ConDem cuts will not just hit rural areas but all of Wales to varrying degrees. Wales is going to lose a quarter of it's courts, these cuts make a complete mockery of the whole notion of local justice.
The Ministry of Justice's (MOJ) real motivation has always bee to cut costs, make no bones about it this cost cutting efficiency agenda is being is being driven by the Con Dem Government in London - and it part of the price that we are all paying (and going to pay) for the bailing out the banks. While there are no doubt real opportunities to cut costs, save money and make the system more efficient, there is a danger of real damage being done to peoples access to justice.
Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly and in Westminster has opposed these cuts which threatened to close 18 law courts in Wales. The UK Government should have reconsidered its decision, because the majority of the proposed closures in Wales will have a significant impact, not just on jobs and services but on the efficient functioning of the criminal justice system. The closures will have a knock on effect as there will be increase in travelling expenses and also higher costs will be incurred by delays in hearing cases. So much for easy access to Justice - one more sound argument in support the need to devolve control of Criminal Justice to Wales.
Plaid's Mr Elfyn Llwyd, MP, a member of the Commons’ Justice Committee, said:
“Under these plans, Wales is going to lose a quarter of all our country's courts. This makes a complete mockery of the whole notion of local justice. What makes it even more disgusting is that the figures that were used by the department to justify this are a completely fairytale as I found out in answer to my parliamentary questions. The MOJ inflated the maintenance bill backlog for the courts in Wales by well over 100 per cent. Initially they quoted £3.2million in June and then after questioning lowered it to £1.15million last month. Is this figure accurate? Llandovery is listed as due to close – despite the fact that the court has already been closed for years. It goes to show how clueless the department is. The Lord Chief Justice said last month that “little, if any, slack left” in the Welsh justice system if these closures went ahead. The additional travel time to locations further away will prove especially costly and time-consuming at a time when families are already facing tightened budgets. This will make life very difficult for people who use the courts – be it defendants, lawyers, justices of the peace, police or probation officers."