LAW: Court closure will increase cost of justice

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The decision to close Spalding Magistrates Court from the beginning of January 2014 made by the Lincolnshire Justices’ Issues Group justified on the basis of the court’s “falling workload” and “the need to list work more efficiently” is quite clearly the wrong decision for the community of Spalding and surrounding area.

Magistrates’ courts deal with both the administration of family law and criminal law. Magistrates’ courts are meant to provide local justice for local people with decisions administered and delivered by locally-based lay-magistrates. The “falling workload” is due to work being moved away from Spalding, administratively and the transfer of that work to Grantham, Boston and Lincoln in recent months.

The decision to close Spalding Magistrates’ Court working as it does alongside the decision of the Lord Chancellor to create a single local justice area for the county of Lincolnshire will not “allow more flexibility in the way cases are listed in court….” as the Lincolnshire Justices’ Issues Group suggests.

Local people wishing to pursue a family case or being part of a criminal case either as a victim or defendant will face the prospect of travelling further to have their case heard. The Lincolnshire Justices’ Issues Group at the moment plan to list criminal cases which formerly would have been heard at Spalding at Boston.

However, the vast majority of family cases which would have previously been heard in Spalding (up until April 2013) are frequently being listed now in Lincoln, some 42 miles away from the centre of Spalding and considerably more from the hinterland that Spalding Magistrates’ Court has traditionally served including as far out as Sutton Bridge.

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.

Neither do they understand the anxiety most ordinary people experience when pursuing a traumatic family case or having to attend court to give evidence as a victim of crime.

Travelling further to have that case heard adds to the anxiety. Plus the vast majority of defendants accused of crime are either on low incomes or dependent on benefits.

The idea they will ensure that they arrive at court on time “under their own steam” is ridiculous. If defendants do not turn up at court on time then the court hearing will have to be reconvened and a warrant will have to be issued for the defendant’s arrest.

The police will then be involved in locating the defendants, arresting them and transporting them to court.

This will increase the cost of administering the justice system to the tax payer.

While the “powers that be” therefore are trying to save costs from one pot the “public purse” will be put to further expense from another pot.

Unfortunately, despite campaigning and efforts of various people involved in the local Justice system and the support of our local MP John Hayes it would appear that the closure of Spalding Magistrates’ Court is now a “done deal”.

Anita Toal

Managing Partner

Maples Solicitors