Unions claim LCD has closures 'hit list'

TRADES unions are accusing the Lord Chancellor's Department of secrecy over plans to close between 13-15 of its probate offices.

The unions say the LCD will reveal its “hit list” as late as possible “to diffuse expected opposition from the public and MPs”.

Ear-marked for closure are the sub-probate registry offices which cover remote areas and are based in Bodmin, Carmarthen, Carlisle, Lancaster, Middlesborough and Norwich.

The closure has also concerned the Law Society.

Its property and commercial services committee chair Richard Hegarty said: “Our main concern with any proposals is to ensure that the standard of services provided by the probate offices is maintained.”

The National Union of Civil and Public Servants (NUCPS) revealed that formal public consultation over a four-week period was due soon.

This was despite the findings of an internal LCD review proposing the closures, which was completed a year ago and the existence of which is denied by the LCD.

NUCPS national officer Azim Hajee warned: “If these offices are closed, members of the public will be put to extra cost and inconvenience.

“This is completely contrary to government claims of promoting access to justice and improving service.”

Hajee called on the Government to publish the report immediately. The union wants lawyers, the public and MPs to fight the planned closures.

It is planning to write to MPs this week.

The union is launching a campaign against the expected closures after the story was first revealed in The Lawyer earlier this month.

Union sources say a National Audit Office report on probate offices several years ago recommended that the 29-office network should remain intact.

But an LCD spokeswoman said the audit office report did not look into issues of efficiency and value for money. “We certainly think the level of service will remain the same,” she said.