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Friday, 13 April 2012

One Court for you. No Court for me.

Two things seem to be happening in our Justice system.

On the one hand it is becoming harder and harder for ordinary people to access it. This has happened in a few different ways. Over the last two years we have seen a series of court closures. So in Southport, a reasonably sized down of over 90,000 people there is no longer a County Court or a Magistrates Court. It is necessary to travel to Preston or Liverpool which involves a long journey especially on public transport.

That situation is even worse in rural areas including Wales and Cornwall.

On top of this there are proposals to severely restrict public access to court offices. Some will remain open for only a couple of hours a day.

Then there is the problem of cost. As we know Legal Aid is being removed from whole areas of law. This reduces the access to legal assistance and makes the whole system even more distant and alien.

Now we are, of course, in difficult times. But, as Heather Brooke pointed out in the Guardian this week, money is being found for development of the courts at the higher end.

So on the other hand, we have seen £300m spent on a new court complex for wealthy foreign businesses. 

Whilst there are advantages in encouraging rich companies to litigate in this country we do have to ask whether it is worth the cost.

Is it right that for most of the population there is an ever decreasing access to justice and the courts when at the same time millions are spent on a new court building  for the rich and powerful?

There was a time when justice was only available to the wealthy. There is a real risk of a perception that we are returning to those days.

We have a proud system of justice in this country. One which has been adopted across the world. But if ordinary people cannot see that this is available to them then it defeats the whole object.

We know that justice comes at a price. The question is what price? And who pays?

fighting for your rights

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