Courts are already used by councils for a significant range of civil and criminal matters, including:
seeking anti-social behaviour orders
applications to take children into care
statutory nuisance appeals
forfeiting counterfeit goods
emergency closures of unfit food premises
Cllr Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
”Councils already own a number of buildings, available for community activity. Many town hall chambers would provide the perfect setting for court hearings, with some having existing courtroom facilities.
“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 is also concerned that court closures could raise serious issues surrounding travel time required to attend cases and the speed in which proceedings could take. For example, family proceeding cases already take an average time of 45 weeks. Such delays can have an impact on the welfare of children and their families, as well as on council budgets.
Cllr Khan continued:
“Whilst a more modern, fit-for-purpose justice system in line with the way we live our lives today is necessary, it must not impact on the speed with which justice is delivered.
“Not all disputes need to be settled in court, but prolonged delays in court proceedings would be unacceptable. Victims of crime quite rightly do not expect to be kept waiting for long periods before their cases are resolved.
“Adequate thought must also be given to the travel time expected of police officers required to give evidence. Rural communities, in particular, would not want to see fewer police on the beat as a result of travelling further to attend court duty.
“Encouraging witnesses to attend court is also difficult in some areas. Asking them to travel even further will not help. The public already feel remote from the courts and the justice system. Speedy justice, delivered locally, will help reassure the public that crime is being tackled and offenders appropriately punished.”
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