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Court closures to save only pounds 1.15m; AMOUNT IS MUCH LESS THAN PREDICTED.


A CONTROVERSIAL programme of court closures in Wales will save less than half the amount originally suggested by the Government, we can reveal today.

The Ministry of Justice plans to shut 13 magistrates' courts and five county courts in Wales in order to save money, and in June suggested there was a pounds 3.2m maintenance bill backlog.

But the department has now admitted the backlog only amounts to pounds 1.15m, calling into question the rationale behind the closures.

"The figure has been exaggerated by well over 100%, said Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru's leader at Westminster.

Magistrates' courts in Barry, Aberdare, Llwynypia, Ammanford, Cardigan, Llandovery, Denbigh, Pwllheli, Flint, Chepstow, Abertillery, Abergavenny and Llangefni have all been earmarked for closure.

The county courts under threat are in Chepstow, Aberdare, Rhyl, Pontypool and Llangefni, and several legal centres in England are also expected to shut.

In June the Ministry of Justice said it was "vital to eliminate waste and reduce costs" at a time when public money was scarce.

But several amendments have had to be made to the original consultation document after errors were discovered. Llwynypia Magistrates' Court was originally described as having a pounds 600,000 maintenance backlog, but this was then revised downwards to pounds 125,000. Work outstanding at the Aberdare court was originally costed at pounds 770,000, but this had to be changed to just pounds 190,000.

Several other courts have had their figures revised, and an apparent pounds 70,000 backlog at Pwllheli Magistrates' Court seems to have disappeared altogether.

A second draft of the Ministry of Justice consultation paper cut the total backlog figure from pounds 3.2m to pounds 1.68m.

But in a parliamentary answer junior minister Jonathan Djanogly said the latest estimate was now pounds 1.15m.

Dwyfor Meirionydd MP Mr Llwyd said: "I hope this process is not going to turn out to be a flawed one. It started off with a proposed consultation period in August - which is never promising - and now we discover that the figures are completely unreliable."

The closure programme has proved highly contentious, with several Welsh MPs objecting to the proposals in Parliament.

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said last month that at least five of the Welsh courts - Aberdare, Abergavenny, Cardigan, Llangefni and Pwllheli - should stay open. He warned that if the plans went ahead, there would be "little, if any, slack left" in the Welsh justice system.

A final decision is expected by the Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, later this year.

A spokeswoman for HM Courts Service said: "As part of the consultation we reviewed all operating costs and backlog maintenance figures to ensure the final impact assessment correctly reflects the initial and ongoing cost saving which could be found from closing the courts under consultation.

"We identified some maintenance backlog figures and operating costs in the Wales consultation paper which were incorrectly entered.

"A corrected consultation paper was published on 28 July 2010 and all local stakeholders and respondees were written to with the revised document and figures."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 17, 2010
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