Campaigners enlisted the help of what they describe as a ‘guerrilla projectionist’ to highlight the issue of court closures earlier this month.
According to the Justice Alliance, over 200 practitioners, trade unionists and others attended a protest outside the former Bloomsbury and Marylebone County Court site in London on the evening of 16 May. Selling Off Our Silver, a slide show, was projected onto the building, which has been sold to developers.
Around 250 court buildings have been sold off by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) since 2010. Selling Off Our Silver included the plight of the famous court Bow Street Magistrates, which has been sold to an investment company that is converting it into a luxury hotel.
Sue James, director and housing solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre and a LAG author, said in a Justice Alliance press release, ‘The MoJ is selling off publicly owned court buildings leaving people without access to a local court.’ She believes that the ministry has done no research ‘on how that is affecting people’s ability to attend vital court hearings’.
In 2016, the government announced after a consultation
on court and tribunal building closures that over 97 per cent of the population could travel to a court within an hour by car and 83 per cent of the population could reach a tribunal within an hour by car (Shailesh Vara, House of Commons Written Statement, HCWS536
, 11 February 2016). The MoJ relied on the same figures last year when it consulted
on the closure of more courts.
‘Relying on travel times by car to justify court and tribunal closures is very misleading,’ said Carol Storer, director of LAG, ‘Many people do not have access to a car and face long journeys via public transport, assuming it is available, to get to hearings.’
The Justice Alliance is calling for a moratorium on any further court closures until independent research is carried out on the impact of the closures on access to justice for the public.