Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling is being advised by the courts service “to move to close” Spalding Magistrates’ Court.
But MP John Hayes and local lawyers are fighting the step – saying the court’s de-listing in December, which temporarily ended hearings there, is denying South Holland people access to local justice and having a huge impact on courts elsewhere.
Defendants and witnesses from South Holland are travelling miles for their day in court, resulting in overloaded lists in Boston and Lincoln, prisoners spending longer in custody than they should – and waiting times for hearings more than doubling.
The South Holland and The Deepings MP and solicitor Rachel Stevens, from CDA (Criminal Defence Associates), met Mr Grayling and senior courts service officials in London last week.
Now they and a small group are compiling further evidence to challenge Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service reasons for recommending closure.
Mr Hayes said Mr Grayling has already promised to look at providing a video link in Spalding so people don’t have to travel for court hearings elsewhere.
“I said that the access to justice is so compromised that it was essential a video link was formally part of any future plan,” said Mr Hayes. “I also said if you are going to have a video link, the most logical place to do it is from the existing court building.”
Miss Stevens described the London meeting as an opportunity to challenge many of the courts service arguments, in particular “the suggestion that this decision is going to save public money”.
She said: “Spalding court is not an expensive facility and, in so many ways, it is clear that this is in fact throwing a significant burden on other budgets which fall within the public domain – for example social services, the police and legal aid.
“I was also able to report some first-hand experience of the consequences that are already being felt by the temporary closure of the Spalding court since Christmas.
“In effect the court service has completely failed to adequately anticipate, and provide, for the impact of the Spalding court work on other courts in the county.
“The result has been grossly overloaded court lists in Lincoln and Boston, inadequate facilities for members of the public attending family proceedings courts and waiting times for court hearings more than doubling ... and it’s only going to get worse.
“I think Mr Grayling is under the impression that we are the sentimental townspeople bemoaning the loss of our small High Street shops when he believes he has provided us with a slick and shiny out of town hypermarket.
“What he needs to understand is that we have been given a rather shambolic jumble sale which sells poor quality products at grossly inflated prices.
“The minister has said that he will hold a consultation process to properly consider all the issues that we have raised and I would therefore ask anyone who has any first-hand experience of the impact of the court closing, ie difficulties in travelling elsewhere in the county or extended waiting times for cases to be resolved, to please write to Mr Hayes at his constituency office to register your views.
“I include in this magistrates, police officers, witnesses and people using the family court.”
nYou can write to Mr Hayes at Office 1, Broad Street Business Centre, 10 Broad Street, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE11 1TB.