Southwark crown court sell-off as officials look to cash in on valuable Thames-side property

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By Katie King on

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One of the country’s most famous serious fraud and crime courts is facing closure.

The Times’ law newsletter The Brief revealed this morning that there could be big changes on the horizon for Southwark crown court. Officials have reportedly proposed that the riverside south London destination should be closed and sold off.

As the main court for hearing Serious Fraud Office cases against rogue traders, a string of celebrities have also had to stand trial between its walls including former children’s TV presenter Rolf Harris, pop singer Tulisa Contostavlos, and famous publicist Max Clifford.

If it goes ahead, the sale of the lease could spell a nine-figure boost for the courts budget: it is said to be worth a staggering £100m. It’s easy to see why. Though the 1980s building is nothing spectacular, its location is: a prime site on the south of the river Thames within spitting distance of tourist destination Tower Bridge, as well as the Square Mile.

The court budget could definitely do with some extra cash, so you might think lawyers would embrace the news.

But you’d be wrong.

No one is more angry about the proposed closure of the court than the judges who sit there. The 13 specialist judges are reportedly “outraged” by the plans, their big fear being that their strong, collective expertise — particularly in fraud and white-collar crime — will be dispersed and diluted if they are moved or split up between different sites.

Lawyers aren’t too happy either. Christine Agnew QC, a barrister at 2 Bedford Row, said she doesn’t blame the judges for resisting the closure, while others have questioned whether criminal law powerhouse, the Old Bailey, will be next.

Whether they like it or not, the planned sale of the Southwark lease is simply one of a long list of planned court closures across the country.

Even if Southwark and friends survive, the court system of tomorrow could look very different to the court system of today. Just last week, Legal Cheek reported that there are plans to introduce new ‘chill out lounges’ for judges, meaning the judiciary would work and relax in a communal hub as opposed to in their own private rooms. There’s even talk of court cases being heard in pubs.

As Lord Justice Briggs pushes on with plans to introduce online courts that are free from lawyers, who knows whether we’ll even have courtrooms in years to come.