Plea for more time in face of court closures

Bury Magistrates Court ENGANL00120121025093615
Bury Magistrates Court ENGANL00120121025093615

Councillors want six months to consider alternatives to the proposed closure of Suffolk magistrates’ courts before a final decision is made.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils’ executive committee met last Monday to discuss their response to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation on the closure of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, which ended on Thursday.

Courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft are among the proposed closures, but there are concerns doing so will add cost to other public services in the county.

Their agreed joint consultation response says: “Suffolk has experienced several court closures including magistrates’ courts in Newmarket, Mildenhall, Felixstowe, Haverhill, Sudbury, Stowmarket, Brandon and Woodbridge.

“It is the view of both Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils this latest proposal is not in the best interests of the residents.

“A single court to serve the whole of the county is likely to cause greater issues with access and greater cost for residents and other public service providers.”

Members also agreed to support a joint overall response for Suffolk, based on a letter by Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner.

In his letter to Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, Mr Passmore said: “I am asking that these proposals for Suffolk are at least held in abeyance for six months whilst detailed alternatives are compiled which meet the objective of improving efficiency and effectiveness, save taxpayers’ money and build trust and confidence in our criminal justice system.

“If the proposals proceed, Suffolk will be one of only six rural counties with a solitary magistrates’ court making life even more difficult for remote communities.”

Members of South Suffolk Labour Party have also sent a response to the consultation.

Vice chairman of the party Jane Basham, said: “The planned closure of courts in Bury St Edmunds will mean greater injustice affecting local people.”

In a detailed response to the government consultation, local civil rights campaigner Mrs Basham spelt out what she feels will be the likely impact of court closure.

She also encouraged local Conservatives and Police Commissioner, Tim Passmore, and welcomed them prioritising the issue of reduced access to justice for those they represent.

Mrs Basham said: “Added to cuts to legal aid and the imposition of court charges, closing Bury St Edmunds will make it much more difficult, time-consuming and expensive for many people to attend court.

“That not only affects witnesses, but also victims of crime, especially those who need to rely on public transport.

“Once again, those who didn’t cause the crisis are expected to pay, through austerity, the price of the bankers’ excesses. It’s ironic that in a year when we celebrate 700 years since Magna Carta, rights of access to justice are now being eroded.

“It also presents a crucial test for local MPs and Police Commissioner Tim Passmore. Do their welcome words of objection count for anything or will they be ignored just like everyone else?”