With plans being discussed that could prevent many vulnerable people accessing justice, staff at Hattons have spoken out strongly against this potential course of action.
As economic conditions continue to bite nationally, but especially in regions such as the North West, ways to save money are continually being looked at, and one option under consideration is the closure of both St Helens’ Magistrates and County courts.
If these plans were to go ahead, vulnerable court users who cannot afford legal representation and cannot apply for legal aid will have to travel to Liverpool. This will involve costly travel fares, while many will have family commitments or health issues that will make the journeys impossible. As a result, many will not attend court and therefore will not have access to justice, with some having orders made in their absence that simply would not have been made if they had been able to be there in person to explain themselves. If they are unable to travel to Liverpool, some people may even find that warrants for their arrest can be made.
“Local courts dispensing local justice is a cornerstone of our legal system, and it is simply not possible to put a price on protecting people and their rights by looking only at financial cost,” says Bruce Hatton, Senior Partner at Hattons.
“Court users are now encouraged to handle many cases themselves, but in order to do this they need to be able to get to a local court for justice. Examples of cases where this is vital include small claims matters over, for example, a consumer matter, domestic violence cases where an urgent need for protection can arise overnight but a vulnerable person is unable to get to a court over an hour away, and housing cases where, because a bedroom tax isn’t affordable already, we see tenants being asked to find the fare to travel to Liverpool, and so we know that reality dictates that this is simply not going to happen.”
With Bruce adamant that the St Helens County Court, which has recently undergone refurbishment, is very much fit for purpose, he sees no other outcome other than less people finding access to justice if the closures go ahead. “Quite simply, less local people will come to us for help if they have barriers put in their way to finding justice. Also, those that do seek our help will see our costs rise due to the fact that we will have to travel to Liverpool, which again will prevent many from taking cases further. All in all, the St Helens court closures are a very bad idea that should be scrapped immediately.”