Lawyers in Birmingham have said they won’t miss the proposed new magistrates’ court, a week after the Ministry of Justice pulled the plug on the project.
The taxpayer was hit for more than £20 million after the Government abandoned plans to build the £81 million new courts building on a plot in the Masshouse development in Birmingham city centre.
But many barristers and solicitors who are regulars at the current magistrates’ court said they did not see the need to leave the old building in the first place.
And they said they would rather see austerity measures from the Government hit capital spending projects than other sources like legal aid.
Chris Owen, the chief executive of St Philips Chambers, said: “My view is that, sad though it may be from the Birmingham point of view and for the legal world, it’s clearly a necessity and therefore the law should take the same hits as everybody else.”
He said that barristers at the criminal team of the chambers said that it was a loss for the legal community, but it had to be realistic about the effects of public spending.
It was a view echoed across the legal community, especially among those used to working at the current court, the red brick Grade I-listed Victoria Law Courts on Corporation Street.
One barrister, who did not want to be named, said he always considered the new courts building to be a “massive waste of money” and said the existing building was often under-utilised and often empty in the afternoon.
He added: “I thought it was a waste of money – existing buildings are sufficient and at least it’s a building being cut and not the legal services. With others suffering cuts, public and private sector, why should the law be any different?”
The new courthouse had been planned for the remaining part of the Masshouse development on Moor Street Queensway. The Ministry of Justice had already paid £12 million to the Masshouse to purchase the land, plus millions more on design teams and consultants, including architects Denton Corker Marshall.
But the MoJ decided to put the project on ice after having to look for immediate savings after its budget was cut.
The future of the plot owned by the MoJ is still uncertain, and it is thought to be worth just a tiny fraction of the sum paid for it by the Government. Nick Payne, the chairman of Masshouse Developments, said he did not want it to lie empty for years, but was considering putting a garden there in the short term. Her Majesty’s Court Service said deferring the project would save it £37 million. The Ministry of Justice has had its budget cut by £325 million by the new administration as part of national budget cuts.
Dean Parnell, the president of Birmingham Law Society, said there were some issues with access to the current building, but that overall lawyers had not been keen on moving away from Corporation Street in the first place.
He added: “I think the general feeling among the criminal lawyers is that it’s good news – I think there’s general relief really. It’s quite interesting actually, there seems to be a great affection for the magistrates’ courts – people feel it was a great public space for the courts.
“Some criminal lawyers I have spoken to said the idea of spending a large sum of money on a new court system just a stone’s throw away was perhaps not the best use of public money in the first place.
“My view and it’s one that is echoed with other people I have spoken to is that it would be a travesty to see the loss of the law courts.”