Future of region’s courts in the balance

THE senior presiding judge in England has revealed which Norfolk and Suffolk magistrates and county courts are facing the government axe.

A review of court cutbacks by Lord Chief Justice Goldring has raised no objections to the closure of Cromer, Swaffham and Ely Magistrates’ Courts.

But Lord Goldring has raised the prospect that Thetford and Wisbech Magistrates’ Court and Lowestoft County Court may escape the axe.

All six courts were included in a list of 157 courts the government revealed in June it wanted to close to save �15m a year in running costs.

After the publication of the list, the Lord Chancellor asked Lord Goldring to give his views on the proposed closure of 103 of the 300 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and 54 county courts.

As part of an ongoing consultation process Lord Goldring has reviewed each court and given each one a recommended category -– no objection to closure; closure is not supported; and further details are required before a decision is taken.

Lowestoft County Court, based in the same building as the town’s magistrates, is in the third category with the report saying savings from moving small numbers of staff were minimal compared to the inconvenience caused to court users by travelling elsewhere.

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The decision was welcomed by Waveney MP Peter Aldous who had written to courts minister Jonathan Djanogly earlier in the month demanding the court be spared the axe.

Mr Aldous said: “Lord Goldring’s report clearly states the decision on whether the court should be closed be based on whether it would affect contact with users in the area.

“In any decision on service closures the welfare of the most vulnerable is of paramount importance.”

Lord Goldring also said further details were needed about the courts in Thetford and Wisbech.

He said he could see no opposition to plans to close the Thetford court if operations were moved to Bury St Edmunds, but queried the cost and inconvenience to court users if hearings were transferred to Norwich instead.

The review also questioned a proposal of Wisbech cases being transferred to Peterborough instead of King’s Lynn which is nearer.

However Lord Goldring sounded the possible death knell for Cromer, Swaffham and Ely Magistrates’ Courts because of a combination of low workloads and poor facilities. Swaffham and Ely were also said to have good transport links.