Andy Slaughter MP’s response to the proposed closure of Hammersmith County Court (formerly West London County Court) – 08/10/15
Hammersmith County Court is the primary civil court serving my constituents, though some in the north or west of the constituency already attend Willesden or Brentford County Courts. Wandsworth County Court, which is proposed as the alternative venue after closure, is not currently used.
I have a number of concerns about the overall court closure programme, which I outlined in responding to the House of Commons debate on Courts and Tribunal Services (England and Wales) on 17 September. This consultation response is limited to my concerns as a local Member of Parliament for the Hammersmith constituency and the direct impact of the proposed closure of Hammersmith County Court on my constituents.
I disagree with the proposal to close Hammersmith County Court.
The Ministry of Justice’s consultation paper refers to Hammersmith County Court as “a critical location for crime work”. It is a successful court which is used at a rate of 62% – higher than the national average of 46% as cited in the Ministry of Justice’s own document. The County Court is also well-used, particularly for housing cases. The Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre operates a duty solicitor scheme from the Court for unrepresented defendants in possession cases and are concerned that the closure will make it more difficult for defendants to access the Court and obtain advice.
The closure of the Court will create a capacity problems at Wandsworth County Court. Wandsworth would need substantial expansion to deal with the influx of new staff and users. The closure would increase the travel and waiting times for users and primarily affect those on modest means and those reliant on public transport. Disabled users and others with mobility issues would be particularly affected.
Lambeth County Court is also proposed to close. This is a very busy court and it is doubly concerning if courts are to be closed when there is clearly insufficient capacity in the system to accommodate the displaced caseload, as the need to expand Wandsworth reveals.
Since the consultation was announced the Mayor of London has announced that Fulham Police Station is to close and the land sold, save for a counter service. This is despite the Station being kept open in the recent cross-London review which closed Shepherds Bush Police station to the public. The Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham will therefore retain only one fully functioning police station in place of three and no civil justice centre. This is the opposite of local justice which is a long-established and important principle of the criminal and civil justice systems.