EXCLUSIVE: Legal action threat by magistrates could halt closure of Fenland court
WISBECH Magistrates’ Court could be saved from imminent closure if a move to take legal action against the Ministry of Justice goes ahead, it emerged this week.
Fenland magistrates are among around a dozen benches looking into the possibility of asking for a judicial review of the Lord Chancellor’s proposals for court closures.
Wisbech courthouse is due to close on March 23 - and there are plans for its work to be shared between courts at King’s Lynn, Peterborough and Huntingdon.
Deputy chairman of the bench, Peter Waterfield, said: “It could be decided that they acted wrongly and there is no justification for closure.
“They have justified our closure by suggesting it would make savings, but they have never come forward to show there are savings to be made, not realistic savings any way.
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“The reason we want a judicial review is that the original proposals were for 100 per cent of our work to go to Peterborough; and we had suggested that Wisbech court could remain open if work was moved from elsewhere.
“It was the original proposal we responded to, but they have moved the goal posts, and we have not been given an opportunity to respond to the new playing field.”
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A spokeswoman from the Magistrates’ Association confirmed that if an action was launched before the closure date, then it is expected that the courthouse would stay open until a decision was reached.
Wisbech Magistrates’ Court is one of 93 courts earmarked for closure, following an announcement in December.
The Magistrates’ Association has taken legal advice on its position regarding judicial review; and is considering the setting up of a company to bring the action.
A spokesman from the MA said: “Concerns have grown amongst local magistrates as it has emerged that a number of the courts included for closure are among those with the best facilities and the highest level of use.
“It has also been suggested that the Ministry of Justice has ignored or misunderstood the evidence submitted by interested parties during the consultation process.”
Their chairman, John Thornhill, said: “There is a growing concern among some of the Association’s members that the process has not been handled effectively.
“A number of decisions do not appear to take into account either the stated objectives, or the evidence presented.
“The Association has always accepted that a number of courthouses are no longer sustainable on financial or other grounds.
“However, it believes the decisions are driven purely by financial constraints, without consideration of other important factors, such as community needs and crime mapping as suggested by the Association.”