CAMPAIGNERS have expressed dismay at the Government’s decision to push ahead with the controversial closure of a North Yorkshire court.
Northallerton Magistrates’ Court will be one of seven facilities closed across the country, Lord Chancellor David Gauke announced today, despite concerns that it would leave people having to travel for hours to access courts in York, Harrogate, Skipton or Teesside.
The dedicated North Yorkshire traffic court, based in Northallerton, is expected to move in its entirety to West Yorkshire.
Yorkshire has already lost a third of its courts since 2010, as ministers grapple with reducing justice budgets.
North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, who had campaigned to save the Northallerton court, said its closure would “disproportionately affect the access of elderly, disabled and remote communities in this area to justice”.
She said: “I believe this is the wrong decision taken at the wrong time. We will be looking very carefully at the decision and the process that has led to it. Access to justice is hugely important for rural communities who too often feel their views are not heard, and the closure of Northallerton Magistrates Court will reinforce that perception, particularly the proposal to move our dedicated traffic court to West Yorkshire.”
Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, who had campaigned to save the court, said the announcement was “disappointing news”, but welcomed assurances that the building would not close until a replacement video link in the town was up and running.
He said: “I am grateful they have acknowledged the challenges we face in this part of North Yorkshire and that they have pledged not close the court until they have installed the video facilities and that they are working satisfactorily.”
Only one court, in Cambridge, escaped the closure plans because of “new information” about the amount the site would sell for, Mr Gauke said.
He said: “All money raised from the sale of these buildings will be reinvested into the justice system, and we want to reassure communities that those affected by closures will have access to alternative courts.
“We must ensure we use public money effectively and make decisions in the best interest of the wider justice system.”
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said while they were pleased Northallerton would get a video link to replace the court, the system was not without its drawbacks.
She said: "We do not believe video hearings will be suitable for all cases. Video links could create a two-tier justice system.
"Defendants using the video link are treated differently to those physically present, as they have less time with their solicitors before their cases are called on. Only having a video link option for such a large region such as Northallerton, instead of a physical court building, is not a long-term solution."