The Government is to close 93 magistrates’ courts and 49 county courts in England and Wales, justice minister Jonathan Djanogly has said.
The decision follows an “unsustainable” situation in which many courts were being left idle for long periods, MPs were told.
As part of the controversial proposals, £22 million of capital will be reinvested to improve and modernise the courts which will receive extra work as a result of the closures.
But Labour attacked the closure programme, branding it a “wholesale destruction” of the foundations of British justice.
Outlining the programme, Mr Djanogly said: “Failures in the last decade to manage the courts estate properly have led to a service which is unsustainable at any time, let alone in the current financial circumstances.
“It is unsustainable that in 2009/10 our 330 magistrates’ courts sat for less than two thirds of their available time and that courtrooms in our 219 county courts sat on average for only 180 days a year.
“It is unacceptable that dozens of buildings, never intended and not fit for the requirements of the modern courts system are still being used. And it is undesirable that in the current financial position that the taxpayer continues to fund buildings that offer outdated and inadequate facilities to victims and indeed to witnesses.”
Mr Djanogly said the plans would only “very slightly” reduce the percentage of the population able to access their nearest court – although the figure he used was for journeys that would take up to an hour. This would now fall from just under 90% to 85%.
He told MPs: “The Government has decided to close 93 magistrates’ courts and 49 country courts.
“Of these 49 country courts, 10 will however remain open for hearings under the control of other local county courts. We will be retaining 10 magistrates and five country courts on which we consulted.”