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Bar Council urges political commitment to invest in local justice

Some 155 local authorities have no local active court compared to 178 that do, a new, live, interactive map of key national and regional data on access to justice across England and Wales produced by the Bar Council has shown.

The ‘Access to Justice dashboard’, launched at the start of Justice Week 2022, includes information on active and closed courts, legal aid providers, and legal aid barristers.

The Bar Council claimed the dashboard “reveals a ‘postcode lottery’ of access to local justice across England and Wales”, and called for urgent political commitment to funding capacity in the justice system.

It said that in addition to court coverage in local authority areas, the information on the dashboard showed:

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  • Over the last 12 years there have been 239 court closures in England and Wales. Some 43% of all courts have now been closed, it added.
  • 373 parliamentary constituencies have no active local court and 200 parliamentary constituencies have an active local court.
  • There are 16,892 barristers in England and Wales in total.
  • There are 4,116 legal aid barristers in England and Wales (all of these barristers derive at least 50% of their fee income from legal aid work).

Mark Fenhalls QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Local courts matter and local justice matters. There is an increasing demand for access to local public services including access to justice. The closure of hundreds of courts over the last decade means that people must travel further and for longer, and waiting lists and backlogs have grown.

“We urgently need a political commitment to fund capacity across the justice system. Technology may be able to help on the fringes, but the Government urgently needs to appoint more judges in all jurisdictions, commit to a long-term rebuilding of crumbling court estate, and widen access to legal aid. If people cannot access justice quickly and efficiently, the public will lose confidence that the law will help them resolve family, property, and financial disputes.”

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