Closing courts could destroy the confidence victims have in our justice system, fears Suffolk police chief
- Credit: Morgan Hollis
Suffolk’s police chief fears the proposed court closures would prevent the force from providing “the best service we can”.
A proposal has been set down to close the magistrates’ court and family court in Bury St Edmunds, and the magistrates’ court in Lowestoft - and in protest to this we have launched the Justice for Suffolk campaign.
Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Wilson today backed the campaing, although he conceded that there was a huge squeeze on the public purse and that organisations were having to cut costs.
He even praised the Ministry of Justice for many of its innovations to provide services more cheaply but added: “I remain concerned that the proposals outlined for closure of courts within the county will not allow us to provide the best service we can and give confidence to those that need to use the courts and the broader criminal justice system.”
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Mr Wilson added: “Some of the decisions we are now making are, of course, very difficult balancing the need to serve the public with the requirement to reduce our budget.
“What is absolutely essential is that we put those whom we serve at the centre of our decision making, in the case of the courts, both victims and witnesses.
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“The Ministry of Justice is going through a very similar procedure and have been trail-blazing in the provision of very innovative solutions within the court system.
“For example, those in detention at our Police Investigation Centres no longer require a costly transfer by Detention Officers in secure vans but can, instead, have a remand hearing conducted by video link from police premises into the courts.
“Additionally, recent investment by police in further video technology allows police officers to give their evidence to court remotely.
“Whilst it is recognised that both these and future initiatives within the Ministry of Justice will reduce significant face-to-face hearings and also that certain parts of their estate are currently under-utilised, confidence within the justice system has to be at its foundation.
“On many occasions, the criminal justice system, including the police and courts, have come under criticism for the way victims and witnesses perceive they have been treated, so it is against this background that the decision on the courts is so very important.”
He explained: “I, like many others within the broader public sector, do believe there are further innovations which can be explored, such as the shared use of public sector estate in those areas where courts are under-utilised, to see whether there are alternatives to the total loss of any court presence within a particular area, particularly with Suffolk’s huge geographic span.
“Of course, with new innovation must come commitment to change working practices. For example, whilst technology is available, I am aware of a recent case where a video link hearing was not deemed appropriate by the court, and this had significant implications for detainees. With reducing resources, I cannot afford to fill this gap whilst providing our core service and will need further assurance that this will be addressed.”