Plans to close Hammersmith County Court have been criticised by MP Andy Slaughter and the Law Society.
They were responding to Ministry of Justice proposals to shut 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales, and integrate or merge 31 more.
The Hammersmith MP, who is also Shadow Justice Minister, describes the court, formerly known as West London County Court, as the “primary civil court serving my constituents”, and “a critical location for crime work”.
Responding in a government consultation which ended on October 8, Mr Slaughter says: “It is a successful court which is used at a rate of 62% - higher than the national average of 46% as cited in the Ministry of Justice’s own document.
“The County Court is also well-used, particularly for housing cases. The Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre operates a duty solicitor scheme from the Court for unrepresented defendants in possession cases and is concerned that the closure will make it more difficult for defendants to access the Court and obtain advice.”
He goes on to say closure would create extra pressure on Wandsworth County Court, which would require a substantial expansion to deal with the influx of new staff and users, and that an increase to travel and waiting times for users will also result.
And he calls on the recent decision to have Fulham Boys School move onto Fulham police station land as a further argument for retaining the court: “Since the consultation was announced the Mayor of London has announced that Fulham police station is to close and the land sold, save for a counter service. This is despite the station being kept open in the recent cross-London review which closed Shepherd's Bush police station to the public.
“The Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham will, therefore, retain only one fully functioning police station in place of three and no civil justice centre. This is the opposite of local justice which is a long-established and important principle of the criminal and civil justice systems.”
Raising similar concerns to those of Mr Slaughter, The Law Society replied in the consultation: “Our members are also concerned that the alternative courts would not be able to offer similar facilities to Hammersmith. For example, Hammersmith still offers a limited counter service. If the court closes, solicitors would have to use other courts, which may be less efficient.
“Closing this court would increase travelling time for court users. Whilst this may be less of an issue for many users in central London due to the good transport network, disabled users and those with mobility issues may find the journey more difficult.”
It recommends the court remains open.