Kent lawyers fight court closures

LAWYERS in Kent have joined forces with trades unions in protest over plans to close up to four county courts in their area.

The closures are the latest in a series occurring since last summer and are seen by court staff, users, and lawyers as a further attack on access to justice at a community level.

Prominent in the protest is the local law society for Dover, Deal and Sandwich and lawyers in the Dover District Council. Solicitors spoke at a public meeting last week, only three days before the deadline set by the Lord Chancellor's Department for consultation on the closures.

Peter Sherred, local society president and partner at Stilwell & Harby, slams the closures. He says: “The sole and only reason for these closures is that they are a cost-cutting exercise. They are certainly not motivated by the interests of justice.”

The public meeting was a last-ditch attempt to reverse the LCD's decision.

However, Sherred says: “There is a cynical view that the decision has already been taken despite reassurances

that our views will be taken into account.”

He says: “Solicitors feel very strongly about it. People are concerned and feelings are running high.”

The LCD is likely to close Folkestone and Dover County Courts, and it will shortly begin consultations on the future of courts in Sittingbourne and Gravesend.

The National Union of Civil and Public Servants and the Civil and Public Servants Association, both strong campaigners against court closures, are also involved.

The Law Society is continuing talks with the LCD to try to get the department to ensure there is “a positive policy of distribution of courts instead of a policy of closures,” says Suzanne Burn, litigation committee secretary.

“We are concerned about too many closures,” she adds.

Tory MP Tim Devlin of the Attorney General's office joined forces with unions and solicitors last July in an unsuccessful bid to save Stockton court, and a judicial review by solicitors of the LCD closure policy in Sudbury failed in November.