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Many court closures have taken place without consideration being given to the actual travelling time it would take someone to get to an alternative building, the chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has said.
Susan Acland-Hood told Parliament’s public accounts committee that in the past officials had instead made decisions based on the “point to point” distance between courts.
“Now we look at the postcodes of people attending the court and the real travelling times,” she said, adding that 95.1% of people could, for example, still get to a magistrates’ court by 9am if they left home at 7.30am, as opposed to 96% before the closure programme began.
The session with MPs followed a report from the National Audit Office saying HMCTS had made “good progress” in transforming some services, but that it still faced “significant challenges”.
The Legal Futures website also reported that Ms Acland-Hood had told the committee that the absence of an online court procedures bill from the Queen’s Speech would have a negative impact on the “scale, pace and ease” of changes.
Sir Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), said he believed the court reforms would be delivered on time and were broadly on schedule, although he added they were “not going swimmingly”.
Sir Richard said an interim report on the project would be published in 2021, with a final version scheduled for 2023.
Ms Acland-Hood added that independent academics were studying the feasibility of video hearings in civil and family cases, and flexible court opening times.