The big HMCTS sell-off: buyers of 152 former courts revealed
Majority of magistrate’s and county courts sold since 2010 went to property developers, followed by private owners and local authorities
Credit: Steve Parsons/PA
A supermarket, a funeral directors, a vets, and the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries are among the organisations that have bought former court buildings from the Ministry of Justice in the past seven years.
Since 2011, more than 150 courts have been sold through the HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s court estate rationalisation programme, raising over £220m, MoJ figures reveal.
At least a quarter of the magistrate’s and county courts were bought by property developers, 18% by private individuals and 16% by local authorities.
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The figures, released following a parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary and Labour MP Richard Burgon, show the buyers and proceeds raised by the sell-off of 152 courts since 2010-11.
Of the buyers that could be identified by Civil Service World, there were 38 from the world of property development, real estate and construction, six of which specialise in building retirement homes. In addition, three courts were sold to housing associations, four to companies in the hotel industry and one to a company that specialises in selling cranes.
Private individuals make up the second largest group of buyers, with 28 former courts now in private hands.
A further 25 court buildings went to local councils, and 13 to the policing sector, including three to the Police and Crime Commissioners for Dorset, Gloucestershire and Durham.
Eight courts were snapped up by religious groups, including Woolwich County Court, which was sold to the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, a Pentecostal denomination that was founded in Nigeria, and Ilford County Court, which went to Sikh group Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha.
Four were sold to colleges or academies, including Balham Youth Court, which was sold to Bellevue Place Education Trust. Three went to charities, two to insurance companies and one, Penzance County Court, was bought by an NHS practice. Redhill Magistrate’s Court now belongs to the Education and Skills Funding Agency
Aldi recently forked out for Solihull Magistrate’s Court, British Airways Pension Trustees for Richard-upon-Thames Magistrate’s Court, and a community cooperative called 4CG, which focuses on local regeneration, took over Cardigan Magistrate’s Court in 2013-14.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer revealed that £223m has been raised through these sales. The most expensive building, Hammersmith Magistrate’s Court, went to developers Dominvs Group for £43m in 2017-18. The City of Ely Council, meanwhile, bought Ely Magistrate’s Court for £1 in 2013-14, according to the figures.
"We are investing over £1bn to reform and improve our world-leading courts and tribunals system,” Frazer said. “Our ongoing court sales are contributing to the court reform programme.”
In a separate parliamentary question answered earlier in March, Frazer said there were 18 courts that had closed since 2010 that were yet to be sold. Some are under offer, or at exchange phase.
HMCTS is currently consulting on another phase of the rationalisation programme and PCS, the largest civil service union, has warned that the further court closures could put hundreds of jobs at risk.
But HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood, in an interview last year with CSW, said the court estate had built up in an ad hoc fashion, while moves to a more digital system would reduce the number of cases that needed to be heard in court.
“We have quite a lot of towns where we have several buildings more or less within sight of each other that have grown up though the heritage of HMCTS,” she said.
“Quite a lot of the closures that we undertake are about going from having four buildings in one town to having two, and working out how we can fit the work in, and that seems to me to be eminently sensible good management.”
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