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Closing courts has not had an impact on local justice, says minister

PUBLISHED: 13:25 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 13:25 16 November 2018

The former Lowestoft Magistrates' Court building. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

The former Lowestoft Magistrates' Court building. Picture: NICK BUTCHER

Archant © 2018

The controversial closure of magistrates courts in Suffolk has not impacted people’s access to justice, a minister has claimed.

The decisions to shut Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds courts in 2016 left Suffolk with just one magistrates’ complex in Ipswich.

That has meant defendants and witnesses have had travel for over an hour to attend court hearings.

The decision sparked widespread opposition in the county, with fears witnesses would not turn up to give evidence - thereby affecting the quality of justice.

But in response to a parliamentary question from Labour shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi about the effect of the court closures on justice in Suffolk, prisons minister Rory Stewart replied: “In deciding that the underused magistrates’ courts in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft should close, the Lord Chancellor was satisfied that effective access to justice would be maintained in Suffolk with an alternative provision arrangement in place in Bury St Edmunds.

“This continues to be our assessment now that the courts have closed.”

He said the workload in Lowestoft had been relocated to Great Yarmouth, which is about 10 miles away, as well as Ipswich and Norwich.

Most of the cases previously heard in Bury St Edmunds are now dealt with in Ipswich, although some non-imprisonable matters and family court cases can be dealt with at Bury’s county court and tribunal building at Triton House.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous, who campaigned strongly against the closure of Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court in his constituency, said although he had not see an “absolutely dramatic” impact, he had noticed problems.

“I’ve not had any absolutely horrific cases where there are problems,” he said.

“Local solicitors have just accepted it and got on with it.

“However there is an issue with family courts being moved to Ipswich and there aren’t enough qualified magistrates to go around.”

He also said if Waveney District Council needs to obtain court orders, its officers now need to travel further afield instead of travelling a short distance to Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court as they did before.

That can delay legal processes - which in one case meant an environmental issue with rats took longer to resolve than it otherwise would have done.

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