MP John Hayes is ready for “a last gasp chance” of saving Spalding Magistrates’ Court in a week when the nation’s criminal justice system was thrown into disarray.
Lawyers staged a mass protest against Government cuts in Legal Aid that will see them paid 30 per cent less than now – a pay rate first introduced in 1996 – by making themselves “not available for court”, a strike in all but name.
Spalding court was de-listed on December 19 and the bulk of its cases go to Boston – but Boston’s court, like courts across the land, only heard urgent cases on Monday morning.
Solicitor Neil Sands, from Criminal Defence Associates, says Lincolnshire’s law firms doing criminal Legal Aid work could well drop from 14 to four as pay rates are slashed.
He said: “There are no guarantees that there will be a firm based in Spalding who will do criminal work.”
Mr Sands said court closures go hand in hand with the sell-off of the probation service, problems with courts’ interpreters and Legal Aid cuts, which add up to a “degrading of the criminal justice system”.
The South Holland and The Deepings MP is concerned about Spalding having its work stripped away and is to meet the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.
Work started to go elsewhere after someone allegedly slipped on the steps from the cells to court room one, but Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service refused to publish its safety report to back up its refusal to allow prisoners to be dealt with there.
Court users say the steps at Spalding are safer than those at Lincoln Crown Court, which remains open.
Mr Hayes wants the evidence published and remains unhappy the report was used as “a spurious justification” to de-list the court.
He said: “I have profound reservations about the argument put up by the courts’ service – at the end of the day they are the servants of the magistrates, not their masters, and they may need reminding of that.”