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Ministers’ decision to sell off one of the only “modern, purpose-built and fit-for-purpose” crown courts in London has been widely criticised by lawyers and others within the legal profession.
Blackfriars crown court will close next week with cases now being sent to Snaresbrook, Wood Green, Inner London and Kingston-upon-Thames.
According to a report in The Times, the 1.4-acre site in Southwark is believed to have been sold to property investment company Fabrix Capital for £65m, prior to conversion into office and retail space. However, the newspaper adds that the Ministry of Justice has said no sale has yet been completed.
When the closure of Blackfriars and six other courts was announced in 2018 the then lord chancellor, David Gauke, said: “All money raised from the sale of these buildings will be reinvested into the justice system, and we want to reassure communities that those affected by closures will have access to alternative courts. We must ensure we use public money effectively and make decisions in the best interest of the wider justice system.”
The decision to close the Blackfriars premises remains controversial, however. Kerry Hudson, president of the London Criminal Solicitors Association, told The Times that the court was “one of the only central, modern and still fully functioning crown courts in London”.
She added: “What happens? It gets sold off to the highest bidder under the pretext of reinvesting monies into improving the delivery of court services to users. The irony is this building was improving the delivery of court services to users in South London and should have been setting a minimum standard for all courts to follow.”
Caroline Goodwin, QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, also expressed her shock that a court that was “modern, purpose built and somewhat unusually fit for purpose” was being dealt with in this manner.
She added: “What is Snaresbrook going to do with the 300 extra cases it receives once Blackfriars closes and its work is redirected there? Inner London only these past few weeks could not operate normally due to the, now tragically expected, usual array of heating and water malfunctions, and had to transfer cases to Blackfriars.”