THE REASONS for public trust in the police, and justice system, being at a low ebb are many and varied, not least the closure of police stations, reduction in patrols and the dismantling of the nationwide network of magistrates courts.
This matters. Not only do law-abiding residents expect the Government to be tough on crime and the causes of crime – Tony Blair’s mantra – but they want justice to be seen to be done and this is not so.
In this regard, the Ministry of Justice will stand guilty of three charges of disregarding the public interest unless David Gauke, the Lord Chancellor, agrees to a moratorium on the latest tranche of proposed court closures so their full impact can be examined.
First, the transparency case. The concept of open justice underpins the country’s legal system and the closure of local courts makes it even more difficult for newspapers – and other media outlets – to follow proceedings and report cases. The humiliation of being named in print was, in the past, a deterrent for some low-level offenders.
Second, the legal case. As the furore over the threatened closure of Northallerton Court demonstrates, it’s impractical to expect victims and witnesses to travel long distances to attend proceedings, even more so in those areas not well served by public transport.
Third, the economic case. The closure of courts has an impact on town centre footfall. Not only do law firms move to areas where the judiciary still has a presence but the mothballing of courts, like Bingley, is expensive and offer no guarantee that the cost to the public purse will be recouped.
This is the prosecution – and defence put forward by the MoJ simply does not pass muster. If it wants to restore confidence in its work, it will think again and recognise the fundamental importance of open and local justice.