Magistrates benches to merge

By Liz HearnshawOFFICIALS have moved to quell concerns more courthouses could close following a decision to merge three magistrates' benches.The plan by the Suffolk Magistrates' Courts Committee, approved by the Government, will see the St Edmundsbury and Stowmarket, Haverhill and Sudbury and North West Suffolk magistrates' benches merge on January 1.

By Liz Hearnshaw

OFFICIALS have moved to quell concerns more courthouses could close following a decision to merge three magistrates' benches.

The plan by the Suffolk Magistrates' Courts Committee, approved by the Government, will see the St Edmundsbury and Stowmarket, Haverhill and Sudbury and North West Suffolk magistrates' benches merge on January 1.

But it is feared yesterday's announcement could lead to the eventual closure of smaller magistrates' courts - just four years after the courthouses in Haverhill and Newmarket shut.


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The decision has been criticised by Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, who said the move would lead to further centralisation of essential services which he felt should be carried out at a local level.

“Magistrates perform a most valuable task in our country. However, the essential ingredient of real local knowledge is being removed,” he added.

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“I hope that when further rationalisation of the bench structure in Suffolk inevitably takes place, they will understand that their actions have brought this about.

“I very much regret this decision. We have had a wholly unnecessary and unjustified assault on the local carrying out of local justice in Suffolk by a programme of magistrates' courts closures and administrative amalgamation.”

Mr Spring said justice should be administered by local people who were best equipped to cast judgment on crime involving their communities.

He feared the amalgamations could eventually pave the way for a countywide merger of magistrates' benches.

But John Rodley, chief executive of the Suffolk Magistrates' Courts Committee, said there was “absolutely no reason” magistrates who currently sat solely in one area would not continue to do so.

“This is nothing which is in any way a radical change. It is merely normalising arrangements that have been evolving for some considerable time,” he added.

“We are not talking about any courthouse closures or reductions in the number of magistrates.

“This will give much more flexibility in sitting patterns and will lessen bureaucracy as there will be no need for three bench meetings to elect officials - we will now only need one.”

“Nothing we are doing will change this service. The same courthouses will exist and the same sitting patterns will exist. This is simply a practical change.”

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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