A long-serving magistrate stepped down on Thursday only days after the courts’ service pulled the plug on Spalding Magistrates’ Court.
Court users suggested Sally Ruttley, a magistrate for 25 years, had resigned in protest at the de-listing of the Spalding court, which means no cases will be heard there from the end of this year, but Mrs Ruttley would not publicly comment on the reasons for her departure.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has this year stripped four sessions from the court and sent that work to other magistrates’ courts in Lincolnshire.
The last remaining session – involving criminal cases – is expected to go to Grantham initially and transfer to Boston in April, but leading lawyer Mike Alexander believes the axe is poised to fall on either Boston or Skegness magistrates’ courts.
The Spalding court closed for a month recently due to a leaking roof and cases went to Grantham, but between 40 and 50 per cent went unheard because defendants either wouldn’t or couldn’t travel there.
The decision to de-list the court was made by The Lincolnshire Justices’ Issues Group “in the light of falling workloads in the courts and the need to list work more efficiently”.
Solicitor Anita Toal says the “falling workload” is due to work being moved away from Spalding administratively.
The vast majority of family cases which would have been heard in Spalding are being listed 42 miles from the centre of town in Lincoln – and the distance is considerably more from Sutton Bridge.
Mrs Toal said: “It is impossible to get from Spalding to Lincoln by way of public transport in time to have discussions at court at 9am in readiness for a 10am hearing.
“The people responsible for making the decisions do not understand the geography of Lincolnshire and the difficulties with public transport.”
Mrs Toal and Mr Alexander are warning that the new system will cost taxpayers more because police will be called on to arrest defendants – many of whom are on low income or benefits – and take them to court.
Mr Alexander said: “I am genuinely shocked because the court service that made this decision hasn’t given any regard to the interests of justice and by interests of justice I mean witnesses turning up.
“It seems if you are rich enough to be able to go to court that’s fine, but if you are poor that’s your own problem.”