• Conor campaigns to keep St Helens Courthouse open

    Conor’s response to the consultation in full can be found below.

    Conor McGinn MP response to the Court Consultation

    I welcome the opportunity to respond to the consultation. I do not agree with the planned closure of St Helens Magistrates’ Court and County Court. There are some serious reservations and concerns that need to be addressed, the closure of the court could have a detrimental impact on the town, its residents and access to justice. There are also some concerns about the transparency of the decision.

    An immediate pertinent issue which is linked to the primary issue of access to justice, is access to transport. As a result of the court closure residents and other stakeholders will have to travel from St. Helens to Liverpool to attend Court. Travelling to Liverpool and Knowsley Magistrates Court and Liverpool Civil & family Court in lieu of a court in St Helens will increase travel time and create additional expense for residents. Whilst the consultation document indicates that 95% of citizens will be able reach the specified courts within an hour by car, over half of those who will be travelling by public transport may face journeys of up to 2 hours. The journey times stipulated for direct rail and bus services between St Helens and Liverpool also fail to take into account the distance travelled by residents who live in outlying rural areas. Many appointments at court are often early in the morning and without access to adequate transport, attendance would simply be unfeasible for many people.

    The cost of extra travel will also have an impact on vulnerable people’s ability to access justice. Many court users, whether they be victims, offenders, or witnesses are often vulnerable. As court users they are most likely to have limited financial resources, be in receipt of benefits, lack access to a motor vehicle, or in some cases have a disability. The increased transport cost combined with cuts to legal aid would mean that many vulnerable people would be unfairly denied access to justice, if the court were to close.

    Whilst HM Courts and Tribunals service have acknowledged users “should not have to make excessively long or difficult journeys to attend hearings” and commented on the role new technology could play in place of physical attendance, currently there are not adequate provisions in place. The use of new technology to mitigate the negative effects of any potential court closure should be in place before, not after, the proposed closure.

    The closure of the court would also have a detrimental economic impact on the town. The Court building located in the town centre currently employs 32 members of staff, and there are 13 solicitors’ firms based in the town that would be negatively impacted by the court closure. Many clients may choose to use alternative firms in Liverpool as a result. This in turn could have a knock on effect on other businesses that are reliant on the presence of the court, and could have unintended wide ranging economic implications and consequences for the town of St Helens and its residents.

    The process of determining which courts would be subject to closure has also not been transparent. Ministers were written to on numerous occasions, with requests for comparative analysis and data on Sefton and Wirral courts, however, this information has not been provided. Nor has any clear framework of the criteria used to determine which courts should be closed, with a clear comparison and rationale.

    In sum the closure of the court would denigrate the status of St Helens as a town. There are not only worries about the transparency of the process, rising costs court users will face and concerns about access to justice, but potentially serious economic ramifications.