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Mark Wallace, Senior Account Manager at Portland Communications and author of the Crash Bang Wallace blog, wants direct democracy extended

The cuts are starting to become real for the first time. It's easy to forget that most of those announced so far – even the student fees that led to riots – are still far off becoming a reality.

Unexpectedly, it is the cuts to local courts that really seem to have crystallised the situation for many people. When the list of courts fingered for closure was published, it jumped into the top five most read BBC News items straight away – no mean feat for a political story about policy, rather than riots or scandals.

I doubt there was any design in that – it just happened to come up relatively early in the cuts process and at the right time to make the news.

It's a policy that people tend to be fairly split on. Courts are often one of any given town's longest-standing public institutions, which brings some emotional attachment. Even more powerful is the fear that this represents a slackening off on law and order. On the other hand, there is no particular reason why the room where someone is tried has to be really close to their home.

Whatever your personal view on court closures, it is interesting to consider how localism and direct democracy could change this debate.

Eric Pickles' Localism Bill, published last week, has many truly revolutionary measures within its pages and operates along principles that, if followed to their ultimate conclusion, could utterly change the way British politics works.

Imagine if we, the taxpayers and citizens, had the power to initiate our own local referenda. Put that hand in hand with properly local financing of local government, and the picture really changes.

If you are really strongly opposed to the closure of your local court, what can you do about it now? You can write to your MP or the Minister responsible, but realistically you probably won't change the policy.

Now imagine if you had the power to force a referendum on your local court being closed. Gather enough signatures and you get a vote on the issue across the local area. Suddenly the apathy which has eaten away at our democracy for so long starts to dissipate.

The crucial aspect to the idea is that with local power must come local responsibility. A vote to keep your local court open must also mean a vote for your local taxes to go up to pay for it.

What would be the outcome of such a system? I happen to believe that people would tend to vote for lower taxes, while the Government would be encouraged to target cuts carefully.

The Left, on the other hand, presumably believe that the people would plump for higher spending instead – though their sneering dismissal of the idea of direct democracy perhaps suggests they are privately less
than confident of that.

Whether the people would vote for spending or cuts, the most important result would be that they were being allowed to choose – and taking the fiscal responsibility for those choices. As believers in individual freedom and personal responsibility, what could be better than that?

14 comments for: Court closures? Let the people decide

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