it’s Death sentence for court

ALARM BELLS: Mike Alexander (left) who sounded alarm bells about the fate of the court in May.
ALARM BELLS: Mike Alexander (left) who sounded alarm bells about the fate of the court in May.
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Spalding Magistrates’ Court will close in all but name on December 31 and this time there will be no appeal to the “death sentence”.

The Lincolnshire Justices’ Issues Group, made up of court staff and magistrates, has decided cases will no longer be listed at the court from the beginning of January.

Had the court been earmarked for closure, there would have been a public consultation as there was in 2010 when a battle to keep the court was won by MP John Hayes, South Holland magistrates and lawyers with the backing of one of the nation’s top judges.

The South Holland and the Deepings MP is this week fighting on to keep the court and has written to Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling to seek talks with him.

Mr Hayes said: “They can de-list the court but they can’t formally close the court, so what they are essentially trying to do is close it by stealth by de-listing it.”

Solicitor Mike Alexander, who sounded alarm bells on the court’s future in May, said: “What I am particularly perturbed about is that some three years ago, the Government said we should keep Spalding court open because it is necessary so justice can be done in this county because of the travel difficulties to other places – and now the court service has made a unilateral decision to close it.”

Four sessions have been stripped from Spalding Magistrates’ Court this year by the court service and now its Justices Issues Group has decided no cases will be heard there because of the “fall in workload”.

A spokesman for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said: “The local Justices Issues Group has decided that cases will not be listed at Spalding Magistrates’ Court from January 2014 due to the fall in workload and the need to list work efficiently.

“The court has not closed and remains available for hearings should the local workload increase.

“No decisions have been made in regards to the future of the court. Any proposals to close courts beyond those already announced would be subject to consultation.”

Mr Alexander says Spalding cases will go to Grantham from January to April – and then Boston.

Spalding court recently closed for four weeks following a roof leak and cases were listed 30-plus miles away in Grantham, which forced multiple adjournments with people unable or unwilling to travel.

One man wrote to the court asking for an adjournment because his boss wouldn’t give him the time off to go to Grantham but would allow him to appear at Spalding.

Mr Alexander said people travelling to Grantham from Long Sutton or further afield will not be able to make a 10am start at Grantham – and could not get home again the same day if their case drags on past 3pm or 4pm.

He said: “No one seems to care about that. We have got a unilateral decision by a body that just flies in the face of justice.”

Cells at the court have been out of use since July last year following a so-called health and safety problem involving stairs from the cells to the Court 1 dock, but the court service refused to publish evidence.

That means the court cannot deal with prisoners but Mr Hayes says it should not become a spurious ground for closure.