Last-ditch effort to keep court hearings in Lowestoft

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has confirmed that talks will be held to consider using the new Riverside of

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has confirmed that talks will be held to consider using the new Riverside offices in Lowestoft for court hearings. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Campaigners are to make a last-ditch effort to keep court hearings in Lowestoft after the government agreed to look into using a district council's offices for hearings.

Solicitors joined Waveney MP Peter Aldous in saying they were 'very disappointed' at the Ministry of Justice's decision to close Lowestoft Magistrates' Court to save money.

'The magistrates' court serves a specific area and a specific community,' Mr Aldous said. 'They will find it more difficult to get to alternative courts. In that respect, I'm concerned about this because I think it's the wrong approach.'

But Mr Aldous has confirmed, following a conversation with justice minister Shailesh Vara, that officials from the MoJ will be in touch to see whether Waveney District Council's Riverside offices – opened last year –could be used for some hearings.

Rob Barley, from Norton Peskett solicitors, in Lowestoft, said: 'Witnesses and defendants will find it more convenient for hearings to take place in Lowestoft.'

Mr Barley had said the closure of the Old Nelson Street building would 'undoubtedly have the potential to impact people's willingness to attend court', thereby affecting the quality of justice.

He said, purely from a business point of view, many solicitors would find it easier to be based around one court building – but said he and his colleagues 'have spent the past 25 years constantly adapting to change'.

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A Waveney District Council spokesman said the authority did not want to comment on the matter at present. Riverside was built as part of a wider £13m accommodation pro-gramme and is where 450 Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council staff are based.

Its main council chamber is used for a variety of public meetings and events, but it is unclear whether the facility could be adapted to give magistrates space to retire to consider verdicts or for witnesses and defendants to wait for hearings.

Depending on the type of hearings being held at the court, there might also need to be additional security to ensure defendants are detained and that people are searched as they usually are when entering a court building.

However, this level of security may not be needed for smaller hearings such as minor motoring offences, where defendants are not even necessarily required to attend court.

The move would be somewhat of a step back in time for the justice system – court hearings were commonly held in town halls across the country as late as the 1990s but gradually moved out to purpose-built facilities.

What do you think about court hearings being held at the council offices? Email, giving your full contact details, to andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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