MoJ holds talks about keeping Bury Magistrates’ Court in town
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Hopes that Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court could stay in the town and move to council buildings have been boosted, after discussions between the Government and St Edmundsbury Borough Council.
The Ministry of Justice, which has proposed closing both the Bury magistrates’ in Old Shire Hall and Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court in Suffolk, said yesterday that using alternative buildings is something it is considering.
A 16-week consultation on the plans closed this month, with the borough council previously expressing shock that the MoJ had not even considered the ongoing public service village project at the council headquarters, West Suffolk House, on Western Way, Bury, which is already in joint use by the NHS and Suffolk County Council.
However, the council’s complete response to the plans, which would leave the county with only South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich, revealed that MoJ officials had now met to discuss a potential relocation of court services to West Suffolk House.
The court closures have been condemned by many in the county, with Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Suffolk’s High Sheriff Judith Shallow, the Law Society, and other high-profile organisations and individuals all supporting The EADT’s Justice for Suffolk campaign against the plans.
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Gareth Wilson, temporary chief constable of Suffolk police, has also voiced his concerns, and Suffolk County Council is opposed to the move.
The leader of the borough council, John Griffiths, in his own response to the plans expressed concern that the rural and more vulnerable residents of west Suffolk will be hit hard by the closures.
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He wrote to the MoJ: “The consultation also suggests that justifications for the proposed closure include the cost, constraints and underuse of the current building and no consideration seems to have been given to alternative options in the town.”
He added that discussions with the MoJ’s court services in the south east had taken place in August, at which the council explained the availability of West Suffolk House and the potential for purpose-built court and tribunal facilities.
He echoed concerns that many have raised about the closures, with access to justice and the principle of local justice both said to be under threat.
The council response, which is on behalf of both Forest Heath District and the borough councils, outlined the significant increase in journey times and cost if the court in Bury is closed.
The plans would see some court sent to Ipswich while others would use Norwich.
The journeys by public transport would be 245% more expensive on average after the closure.
The response, authored by council chief executive Ian Gallin, also outlines a series of inefficiencies in Suffolk’s court system that their own lawyers and employees often encounter.
This included the failure to inform defendants of the court date and hours spent waiting for cases to be heard.
Mr Gallin wrote: “We would suggest that, if the Ministry of Justice is looking to achieve radical transformation of the justice system, more focus should be given to the review of its systems and processes.
“In particular, we would urge you to consider ways to improve the management and organisation of the court service such as an improved listing system, longer and more flexible court hours.”
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said: “To ensure that access to justice is maintained, even in more rural locations, we are committed to providing alternative ways for users to access our services.
“That can mean using civic and other public buildings, such as town halls, for hearings instead of under-used, poorly-maintained permanent courts.”