Rural communities at risk of being cut off from justice system

Rural communities risk being cut off from the criminal justice system due to closures of courts and tribunal buildings, according to the National Rural Crime Network.

The group, which is made up of nearly 30 Police and Crime Commissioners and other organisations with a focus on rural England and Wales, was responding to a consultation on the proposed future strategy for HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

It believes the impact of any changes to where hearings and cases are heard will significantly impact rural parts of the country harming the confidence in and connection to justice.

The consultation suggests there could be changes to the location of courts and tribunal buildings, but responses from NRCN Members showed a belief that too much emphasis is placed on how public transport and technology would be able to reduce the impact of these changes.

NRCN Chair Julia Mulligan met with Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP at Westminster yesterday (20 March) to put forward these views and urge her to take them into consideration when decisions are made on the future location of courts and tribunal buildings.

In its response, the NRCN says that while Members accept that savings need to be made, ‘we do not believe the consultation document recognises many of the unique challenges of rural communities’.

It adds:

‘From transport to technology, many of the factors cited in this document as being able to mitigate the impact of changes to the court and tribunal estate simply do not exist in any meaningful form in rural communities.

‘We would also question some of the research which has been carried out for this consultation, and individual consultations on specific changes. For example, often there seems too much reliance on looking at maps online and making assumptions rather than taking into account geography, demography and the public service landscape.’

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network, said:

“If the views of those who live and work in rural communities are not taken into account in this consultation, there is a very real risk they will be cut off from the criminal justice system.

“The National Rural Crime Network urges HM Courts & Tribunal Service to recognise the unique challenges faced by rural communities as they assess the results of this consultation and ensure any changes help and not hinder access to justice for those who all too often already feel their voice is not heard nor listened to.”