A plan to turn empty shopping centre stores into courts of law has today raised concerns with the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC).
The proposals are likely to be presented to the Ministry of Justice by the Magistrates’ Association during its autumn spending review.
Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has warned that over 100 magistrates and county courts may be closed due to impending public sector cuts and relocating some of them to shopping centres may be a way of saving money.
Ed Cook, Executive Director of BCSC, commented: “Centre managers are always looking for innovative ways to use empty retail units.
“However, these other uses need to be carefully balanced with the overall occupier mix in order to achieve a relaxed and vibrant retail and leisure experience.
“Our view is that applications from local councils would need to be assessed by the relevant centre on a case-by-case basis because every centre is unique.”
These new courts will be glass fronted so as to improve the public’s access to open justice and the Magistrates’ Association argues that being in shopping centres may improve attendance of defendants and witnesses due to easy commuter access.
Public safety and preserving anonymity will be challenges to overcome if the project is to succeed and the BCSC does not think it will be appropriate for all shopping centres.
Cook added: “In several cases there may be merit in providing this service, but in many it will not be feasible for a whole host of reasons.
“Centres themselves will need to take into account the wider considerations of security, ambience and the potential operational and logistical challenges posed by holding defendants in a separate and secure space from the general public.”