The fate of Tunbridge Wells County Court will not be known until next year, the government has confirmed, as experts warn its closure would ‘deepen inequalities’.
The warning comes after the closure of a consultation into the viability of 91 courts across England and Wales, with Tunbridge Wells listed as one facing potential closure.
As reported by the Times in July when the consultation started, local law firms have criticised the decision to include Tunbridge Wells on the list.
At the time, Kirsty Law, a partner at Thomson Snell & Passmore, said the closure would be a ‘real loss’ to the town, adding that it could discourage people from seeking justice.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers agreed. He said: “The proposed closure of Tunbridge Wells court will make it more difficult for many people to get to court and adversely affect people with disabilities and lower income families.
“Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, this closure will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.”
The cost of travelling by train to Chatham or Canterbury for the same service ranges from £9.50 return to £41.70 return, the Law Society claims, adding: “This is entirely out of financial reach for people on low incomes or benefits.”
A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said the closure is not guaranteed, as the consultation results have to be reviewed, a process due to last until early 2016.