M's fears for future of local justice

By Rebecca SheppardAN MP has criticised changes to the way the county's magistrates' courts are run, warning it will be “the final nail in the coffin of local justice”.

By Rebecca Sheppard

AN MP has criticised changes to the way the county's magistrates' courts are run, warning it will be “the final nail in the coffin of local justice”.

Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, reacted furiously to the announcement of the demise of the Suffolk Magistrates' Courts Committee, which is responsible for their administration.

The ownership of the property of the magistrates' courts will also transfer from Suffolk County Council to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, in London.


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All of the 130 staff working within the five magistrates' courts in Suffolk - in Bury St Edmunds, Mildenhall, Sudbury, Ipswich and Lowestoft - will then become civil servants.

The committee is being abolished and will be replaced by the new Court Service as part of the Department of Constitutional Affairs.

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The organisation responsible for the crown and county courts - the Court Service Group and Circuit Management Structures - will also be scrapped, with their duties taken over by the Court Service.

Mr Spring said changes being brought under the Court Act, which comes into effect on April 1, would see Suffolk “lose an important part of the fabric of county life”.

He felt it was fundamentally wrong, utterly disgraceful and would add nothing to the efficiency of the court service, further removing any sense people had of belonging to the county.

“This outcome is 100% precisely what I predicted several years ago when I fought a long campaign both in Suffolk and at Westminster to preserve local justice in Suffolk,” said Mr Spring.

“I fought to retain the Newmarket and Haverhill courts, which were closed down. I held meetings with the Government and with the magistrates' courts committee.

“I gave the magistrates' courts committee repeated warnings that the end product of their unwillingness to stand up for the principle of local justice, based in Suffolk, would end in their own demise. Very regrettably, I have been proved right.

“I believe once the magistrates' courts committee failed to stand up for the principle of local justice in Suffolk, so inevitably the whole courts system has lost its local roots and county structure, with power being relinquished to central Government.”

He added: “This is why communities feel alienated from the political process because they have no control.

“Local magistrates' courts are a hugely important part of the support structures of local communities.

“This announcement is absolutely shameful. It is the final nail in the coffin of locally-managed justice in Suffolk.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said the new Court Service would combine all the 42 magistrates' courts committees across England and Wales.

She added that would lead to greater consistency and stop variations in justice administration by making one national framework.

John Rodley, director of the Court Service Suffolk (designate), said the new structure was designed to increase the flexibility of the courts' use and improve the service to the public.

“When you look at Suffolk at the moment we have two organisations looking after the administration of the courts. In the future there will be only one,” he added.

“In my opinion that is a good thing because, for example, you would not necessarily have to wait so long for a case to come up just because there is not room in that particular court as you would be able to utilise another one.

“In my view Suffolk generally should benefit in being able to consider its courts as an entity rather than have some as run from elsewhere. In my view it represents the opportunity for giving a better deal for victims and witnesses.

“None of this affects the delivery of justice in the courts. It is an administrative exercise and nothing will change about where the courts are and what they do.”

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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