Thursday 26 July 2012 by John Hyde
Court closures are forcing victims and witnesses in domestic violence cases to travel more than 50 miles to and from hearings, the Gazette has learned.
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that 18 Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVCs) have closed in the last year, with a further four closures planned for the next three years. The specialist sites were former magistrates' courts converted since 2005 to make it easier for victims to give evidence and bring more offenders to justice.
The government's programme to close 142 courts in England and Wales includes 22 SDVCs. In response to a freedom of information request, the MoJ said that alternative sites had been found and converted for each closed facility.
However, eight are more than 10 miles away from the closed site, with three situated more than 15 miles away.
For example, court users from Tamworth have to travel 17 miles to Burton, those from Rugby must go 19 miles to Nuneaton-Leamington Spa, and victims and witnesses previously giving evidence at Goole now have to travel 28 miles to the nearest site at Beverley.
Despite the closures, Surrey is the only county which does not have an accredited SDVC site, with Redhill Magistrates' Court dealing with domestic violence matters. In nine cases, the closed court that housed the SDVC is still empty, waiting to be sold on the open market. These sites are at Tamworth, Lewes, Daventry, Whitehaven, Hemel Hempstead, Salford (pictured), Rochdale, Dewsbury and Bridgwater.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said the increased distance to alternative sites could have an impact on victims willing to go to court.
'If they are going via public transport, there is even the possibility they will be travelling on the same route as the perpetrator,' he added.
The MoJ, which has contributed more than £9m to the funding of SDVCs since they were formed, said there are currently 143 in England and Wales, the same figure as the peak in 2009/10. This week the Crown Prosecution Service reported that prosecutions and convictions for crimes of violence against women and girls have risen by 15,000 over four years.