Plan to hire town halls as courts
Town halls could be hired out as courts to raise money for councils and increase the speed of justice, local authorities have said.
The proposals, which have been submitted to ministers, would ensure minimal disruption for victims, witnesses and police officers, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.
The Ministry of Justice is considering closing up to 103 magistrates' courts and 54 county courts across England and Wales in a bid to cut costs and improve efficiency as part of the Government's spending review.
Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "Many town hall chambers would provide the perfect setting for court hearings, with some having existing courtroom facilities.
"Local authorities are well aware of the sensitivities of keeping victims and witnesses safe.
"Although specialist courts are needed in some cases, in the vast majority of court cases, council buildings would be more than adequate.
"It would certainly overcome the problem for rural communities and could maybe provide a boost for council budgets if hire costs were considered."
The LGA said it is concerned that the planned court closures could raise serious issues over the time taken for cases to come to court and for witnesses and victims to attend.
Mr Khan continued: "Whilst a more modern, fit-for-purpose justice system in line with the way we live our lives today is necessary, it must not impact on the speed with which justice is delivered.
"Not all disputes need to be settled in court, but prolonged delays in court proceedings would be unacceptable. Victims of crime quite rightly do not expect to be kept waiting for long periods before their cases are resolved."