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More than 200 district council representatives this month called for an immediate halt to magistrates' court closures and for a national review of the effects closures will have on local communities.
The annual meeting of the Local Government Association's (LGA) Rural Commission in Harrogate pointed to a survey carried out by The Lawyer last year (5 August 1997), which showed that almost a third of magistrates' courts had closed since 1987 as a result of cutbacks by the Lord Chancellor's Department.
The survey, which is the only research done on the issue, revealed that more than 160 out of nearly 550 courthouses had shut since 1987, and that closures had affected virtually every county.
The worst-hit areas were Hereford and Worcester with 12 closures, Dyfed with 10, and Hampshire and north Wales, both with nine.
LGA chair Alison Clish-Green wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, last week asking the government to research and take into account "the full judicial, social, environmental and access considerations involved in such closures".
However, the general secretary of the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees, Duncan Webster, stressed that magistrates' courts committees always considered the effect on the local community before deciding to close a magistrates' court.