The official consultation on closure of Spalding Magistrates’ Court has descended into farce with key players including solicitors and councillors not told that it had even begun.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) sent its consultation documents to only a select few, claiming closure would save £40,000 a year and there would be improved service delivery at “more suitable court venues”.
But HMCTS hasn’t admitted it will cost around £50,500 a year for ongoing maintenance of the empty court building or that other Lincolnshire courts are struggling under the weight of the Spalding caseload.
The former Boston Magistrates’ Court, virtually the Spalding court’s identical twin, has remained unsold for eight years – costing taxpayers more than £400,000 – and the same fate awaits the Spalding court unless a public outcry persuades Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling to keep it open.
MP John Hayes is angry at the dismal attempt at consultation by HMCTS and has asked the Ministry of Justice to circulate the official consultation more widely.
HMCTS says the Spalding consultation can be viewed online at www.justice.gov.uk/consultations – but, when the Free Press tried to do that, the Spalding consultation wasn’t automatically loaded and we had to search for it.
The South Holland and The Deepings MP is working with lawyers and councillors to fight the court’s closure and is determined ordinary people will get their say.
He is preparing a series of questions to be published in the Free Press – and inviting readers to answer them.
Answers will be included in the MP’s own response to Chris Grayling on the closure proposals.
Mr Hayes said: “Because this consultation is dense to the point where it may discourage responses, I intend to work with the Lincolnshire Free Press to provide a straightforward opportunity for people to express their views.”
People from South Holland, Bourne and The Deepings have travelled Lincoln, Skegness, Grantham and Boston as Spalding court’s work was stripped away following highly questionable health and safety issues raised by HMCTS.
The Lord Chancellor has offered to look at a possible video link to cut the need for people to travel such big distances.
County councillor Nick Worth, who is fighting the court closure, didn’t receive the consultation document and says: “I would say they (HMCTS) have been pretty under-handed from the word go.”
He says health and safety issues could have been fixed rather than HMCTS use them as an excuse to close the court.
The de-listing of Spalding court has resulted in overloaded lists in Boston and Lincoln, prisoners spending longer in custody and waiting times for hearings almost doubling.
There’s a big impact too on those attending family courts, which are held in Lincoln, with people from Sutton Bridge facing a return journey of more than 100 miles.
l Figures on maintaining empty court buildings were obtained by The Law Society Gazette. Its Freedom of Information request revealed the cost of maintaining 48 empty courts was £202,000 a month – or more than £2.4million a year.