Previously closed courts in England and Wales are costing the taxpayer at least £40,000 per month to secure and maintain casting doubt over the plans to close St Helens Courthouse.
Information obtained recently by a Parliamentary question shows that the Ministry of Justice has yet to dispose of 15 closed courts from a previous reform programme as it prepares for another round of closures.
A Parliamentary Question by Shadow Justice Minister, Andy Slaughter MP has revealed that the cost of maintaining 12 of the 15 courts is almost £500,000 per year.
Commenting on the figures, Marie Rimmer MP said: “These figures show why the planned closure of St Helens Courthouse just wouldn’t add up. With previously closed buildings lying dormant costing thousands to secure, it is likely that St Helens Courthouse would simply add to this wastage if closed.
“St Helens Courthouse is a modern facility that has only recently gone through a £1.7m refurbishment. The courthouse contains a number of purpose built reinforced holding cells in the basement that renders the site almost unusable for any other purpose, leaving it with no commercial value.
“The courthouse is one of the most efficient of the 91 courthouses being consulted upon and the building is one of the most modern courthouses in the country.”
The digitilisation of the court estate to reduce the workload on courthouses is a key part of the Government’s court closure programme. However the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, recently expressed concern to the Justice Select Committee about the Government’s record on digitalisation saying that it was “not exactly shining” and the prospect of meeting the Government’s own deadline was incredibly tight.
An announcement on the fate of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, including the St Helens Courthouse, is expected within weeks.