The closure of Morpeth County Court has been confirmed.
HM Courts and Tribunal Service announced that 86 buildings across England and Wales will no longer be used for legal hearings. It stated that they are being underused.
The Morpeth court, which deals with family cases, civil litigation and boundary disputes, is in a section of Fountain House in Newmarket. It is set to close by the end of June.
Its work will be moved to Newcastle Combined Court. HM Courts and Tribunal Service says an additional district judge’s chamber is required at this court as a result, but analysis ‘has indicated that this will not prove a difficulty’.
The decision has been criticised by local members of family law organisation Resolution, which claims that the analysis is not thorough enough to justify the closure.
Claire Hunter, Resolution spokeswoman for the North East, said: “This is devastating news for local families. Parents and children need to be able to access the justice system – this decision will make that more difficult.
“Closing Morpeth County Court and others may make sense on a Government spreadsheet, but here the reality is that it will have a big impact on local people who require family courts at a deeply emotional and difficult time in their life.
“The additional stress of travelling to a court in an unfamiliar town or city many miles away will subject people to a further unnecessary burden.
“This is why we’re calling on the Government to reverse its decision.”
The section of the report on Morpeth County Court says that other civic and public buildings may be used, where appropriate, to help access to justice for people in rural areas.
It also includes the following: ‘The utilisation figure of 44 per cent provided in the Morpeth County Court consultation proposal did not include family magistrates court sitting days.
‘Supplementary data on judicial work held in chambers and informal rooms was therefore considered in addition to the published utilisation figure before a final decision was made regarding Morpeth County Court.
‘Although the logistics of such arrangements would need to be carefully considered with our stakeholders, we will consider alternative proposals in relation to the family work currently heard at Morpeth to be heard at Mid and South East Northumberland Magistrates’ Court (Bedlington) and Berwick in addition to Newcastle.
‘Consultation with the departmental trade union on staffing impacts will take place over the coming months. There are a number of factors to consider before Morpeth County Court can close.’
Part of Justice minister Shailesh Vara’s written statement is as follows: ‘Court closures are difficult decisions – local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns.
‘But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.
‘It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97 per cent of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.’