Courts at Lowestoft, King’s Lynn and Bury St Edmunds to shut despite local opposition
- Credit: James Bass
There is going to be another round of court closures in East Anglia as the government today confirmed that courts at Lowestoft, King's Lynn and Bury St Edmunds would shut.
Lowestoft is the worst hit in the round of closures, losing its magistrates court, as well as its county and family courts.
King's Lynn Magistrates Court has survived the cuts, but its County and Family court is shutting. All of Bury St Edmund's courts will shut.
It means that cases at Lowestoft will be sent to Norwich, Great Yarmouth or Ipswich. Criminal cases will continue to be dealt with in King's Lynn and some of the work from its closed family and county court will move to its magistrates court.
Just two of the 92 responses in the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) consultation on the Lowestoft court closures were in favour of shutting.
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One magistrate said: 'It is difficult to oppose the closure of Lowestoft given its proximity to Great Yarmouth: the capacity of that courthouse and the real similarity between those two communities.' But 98% of respondents were against the closure.
Another magistrate said: 'Suffolk is a rural county with poor and costly public transport links. Defendants who are often on low income will have difficulty getting to court and witnesses may not bother at all (I have reports of this already being said).'
A solicitor, who responded to the Lowestoft consultation, said: 'Suffolk suffers not only from extremely poor road links but a poor public transport system.'
King's Lynn closure
One person out of 34 respondents to the Government's consultation supported the court closure in King's Lynn.
Many of the concerns were around access to justice in the town.
One solicitor said: 'Removing a hearing centre from King's Lynn will impose a financial burden on litigants in person and represented parties alike. There will be no access to justice for them if they are forced to travel to Norwich.'
HM Courts & Tribunals Service said they accepted that some people will need to travel further for civil hearings but it said all family court hearings will be held locally at King's Lynn Magistrates' Court and Family Court.
Commenting on today's announcement that King's Lynn County Court will shut, Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, said: 'During my meetings and representations to the Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, and the Courts Minister Shailesh Vara, I made it very clear that our first priority was to keep the Court open.
'I also stressed that the fall back that position was to ensure as much civil work as possible was moved across to the nearby Crown Court and Magistrate Court complex. Bearing this in mind, it is obviously some consolation that the Secretary of State has now announced that the family hearing work will transfer to King's Lynn Magistrates and Family Court.'
'I am also pleased that he has made it clear that some urgent civil hearings will be held at King's Lynn Magistrates and Family Court, and the use of video link will also be available at King's Lynn Magistrates Court which will certainly help in situations where travel may be a problem'.
Mr Bellingham said he was now going to be request a meeting with the Secretary of State to find out which categories of work would now end up being lost from King's Lynn.
He said: 'Quite a few of the representations to myself focussed on the travel challenges that would be faced by constituents in the event of the Court closing, so we really do need know what percentage of the work will be able to stay in Lynn.'
Blasé about Bury
Bury St. Edmunds Magistrates Court and Family Court and Crown Court will also shut once a 'local alternative' has been found, the MoJ said.
The MoJ said there was capacity at Ipswich Crown Court for Bury's cases.
But the Government was accused of being 'blasé' about the distances between Bury, Ipswich and Norwich where cases could be sent instead.
The consultation on the closure claimed there was a 'regular train service' between Norwich and Bury. Of the 132 responses to the consultation, one was in favour of closure.
One magistrate said: ''The fact Suffolk is a large rural County will mean (if Bury St Edmunds Court closes) long and expensive journey times from the West of the County to Ipswich which is in the South East of the county.'
A solicitor told the consultation: 'The consultation seems almost blasé about the distances and travel times involved in getting to the other court centres and seem ignorant of the fact that Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are rural areas with poor public transport.'