First things first
I am going to begin this piece with both an apology and a credit, to recently retired judge Nic Madge and his new article printed in the latest edition of Legal Action magazine for September 2019.
I’m not plagiarising, the problem is, Legal Action magazine is a subscription-only publication and whilst Safer Renting have a subscription I know that people outside of law firms or advisory services don’t get a peek, and I think Nic’s article needs wider promoting as it is tremendously important.
I have written on this blog before about the dreadful effects of court closures on housing cases. The constant doubling up of courts and the chaos it is causing to not only judges and litigants but also the administration of cases.
In the just the past few weeks we have had two cases where the defence bundle was delivered in person to the relevant court, only to find on the day of the hearing that there was no record of a defence having been filed.
The application of one litigant attempting to have the possession order set aside on the basis that he didn’t attend the hearing, was rejected because the court records showed that he had attended, an error they later corrected but not before much damage was done and the family made homeless.
Also, a solicitor friend told me yesterday that in calling the court for information on a case they had represented in two hearings was told the courts had no record of the firm’s involvement in the case.
So what is really behind the sell-offs of court buildings?
What is causing this madness? This is what Nic’s article tells us and what people need to know.
As many people will have read, the government’s stated intentions are to modernise the court system, rely more on IT to reduce the need for stressful face to face hearings and cut down the need for litigants to travel to the court.
To achieve this end, Nic’s piece informs us that between 2010 and 2017 the Ministry of Justice has sold off £223 million in court real estate and that in London alone £175 million has been raised by selling the buildings off, many of which have become hotels.
- 250-year-old Bow Street Magistrates sold to Qatari investment firm BTC, with planning permission to convert into a 100 room hotel.
- Both Old Street and Tower Bridge courts already converted into luxury hotels.
- Bloomsbury and Central London County court have been demolished and are to be replaced with 73 homes, selling @£15 million a pop with no affordable housing in sight.
Fact and figures
Nic also delves deeper and reveals that whilst Bow Street was sold in 2008 for £17 million it was sold on again in 2016, without any further work having been carried out, for £75 million. Nice profit for doing SFA, while the local community went without a court service.
Developers Barratt’s making £160 million in clear profit from the redevelopment of Horseferry Road magistrates court to build flats starting @ £700,000 each, whilst Bellway, who bought Hammersmith Magistrates court for £43 million have plans to build a 25 storey hotel.
In order to facilitate all these sales, between January 2018 and January 2019, Her Majesties Court Service and the Ministry of Justice paid £75 million to consultants and in comments made by the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges in evidence given to the Civil Justice Committee, they said:-
“More than half of the budget of £1.1 billion has already been spent for limited tangible benefit. Court closures and huge reductions in staff numbers with more to come have led to a stark deterioration in the service with no immediate sign of the promised technology being delivered”.
Is profit really more important than people?
So the sell-off of court buildings is yet another example of a country in thrall to developers, money and property as investment, where their interest in profits is more important than the lives of the people of this country.
Nic ends his piece with a quote made by former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Henry Brooke and it seems appropriate for me to do the same:-
“The villains of the piece are our politicians who believe that once the justice system has been scraped to the bone, no harm can be done to people’s lives by giving the well scraped bone another scrape or two”.