The latest HMCTS Annual Report is no bedtime reading but reveals some interesting developments. The words “court closure” are never mentioned, but there are the strongest hints of a big programme to do just that. P 18 refers to “overcapacity and inflexibility in the estate”, an opportunity to “invest in improving our estate” and “We will continue to conduct detailed local level analysis to ensure that access to court and tribunal services for residents in rural areas is assessed in a robust manner, to ensure that access to justice is preserved regardless of geographical location”. The writing is on the wall, in civil servant language, but without any details of how many courts will be closed or where.
The report is slightly opaque in other ways. In the introduction it says “extensive work continued to improve processes and performance” and there was “better case progression” but all cases except family and magistrates (from first listing to completion) seem to have taken longer in 2014 than 2013 – for instance, crown court triable either ways cases have increased from 14.3 to 17.6 weeks. The most perplexing numbers are tribunal cases where the number of cases has gone down radically, but the time taken for each case seems to have increased. In 2013 there were 524,606 social security and child support cases received, and the cases dealt with that year took 19 weeks. In 2014 108,335 of these case were received and they took 26 weeks (p 9). Given that the court infrastructure and staffing were still there, this is a little perplexing.