Fenland MP Steve Barclay raises Wisbech Courthouse closure threat in House of Commons

STEVE Barclay MP today took the fight to save Fenland Magistrates’ Court to the House of Commons, by raising the matter with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State.

Mr Barclay, MP for NE Cambs, also said he accepted the closure of Ely Magistrates’ Court but said the closure of the court in Wisbech would be a mistake for a number of reasons.

He said: “Whilst clearly this decision (to close the court) will be taken by the Justice Minister, I also wanted to raise this important local issue at the highest level.

“Whilst I recognise that savings need to be made, I wanted to highlight the unique importance of this court to the local area and offer as much support as possible.”

Mr Barclay submitted a letter to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Jonathan Djanogly before yesterday’s consultation deadline, in which he said: “Whilst regrettable, I accept in the current climate the closure of Ely (Magistrates’ Court).”

However, he said transferring work from Ely to Wisbech rather than Cambridge would give Wisbech a utilisation rate of almost 60 per cent - more than any current Magistrates’ Court in Cambridgeshire.

The highest, Peterborough, had a 49 per cent utilisation rate last year - and that rate does not include the court’s use as Coroner’s Court nor occasional use as a Crown Court.

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Mr Barclay also said cost savings have been overestimated by more than �40,000 due to a one-off renovation, travel times have been underestimated and Fenland’s population is set to grow by 18 per cent over the next 15 years.

Wisbech sits an extra three courts per month to cope with an increasing workload, according to Mr Barclay, and highlighted praise in a recent inspection report for its suitability for family proceedings.

Consultation papers state that operating costs for 2009/10 were �123,555, but Mr Barclay said this was higher than usual because �43,630 was spent improving the cells at Wisbech.

“Therefore the potential savings from Wisbech are significantly reduced,” he said.

“Also, according to the Office of National Statistics the population of Fenland District Council is set to grow significantly over the next 15 years. It is projected to rise from 93,900 in 2010 to 111,100 in 2025.”

Mr Barclay criticised claims in the consultation that Wisbech has “limited interview rooms”, after the Chairman of Fenland Magistrates said it provides “a better facility than what is available at Peterborough”.

“The consultation does not refute this,” he said.

“In addition the consultation suggests that Peterborough Magistrates’ Court offers disabled facilities which far exceed that offered at Wisbech. However, Peterborough also fails to offer full compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act (2005) as the lift from the custody area to courtrooms cannot be used by a wheelchair.

“I have been informed that they direct such cases to Cambridge, and as such do not offer any additional facilities in this respect than at Wisbech.”

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