Lord Chief Justice talks of hardship if Government goes ahead with closure of Fenland court

THE Lord Chief Justice has stepped into the row over the future of Wisbech court and claimed its threatened closure could create real hardship for some who use it.

Lord Judge, head of the judiciary in England and Wales, has submitted his views on the threatened closure in a report to Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke.

The Lord Chief Justice wants the Minister to think again about the threatened closure, particularly in relation to plans to relocate magistrates’ work to Peterborough and not Kings Lynn.

“The court sits for three days a week, hearing a good mix of criminal business from the local area,” he says.

“The consultation asserts that the standard of the building ‘falls short of the minimum requirements’ but does not offer any reason as to why; it is a relatively modern (1950s) building with a secure dock, witness service facility and interview rooms for the parties. There is no maintenance backlog.”

Lord Judge says that “whatever the merits of closure of the building, I am unable to ascertain why it is suggested that work transfers from Wisbech to Peterborough. Kings Lynn is only 12 miles away, whereas Peterborough is 23 miles.

“There is no train service to either court and bus times appear similar. I can only assume that local boundaries again play a part in this suggestion and would urge reconsideration as it would appear court users will be disadvantaged by administrative concerns.”

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The Lord Chief Justice adds: “Subject to reconsideration of the above point, it is difficult to justify retention purely on access to justice grounds, though transport from outlying areas, and rural poverty in the Fens, will mean genuine hardship for some court users”.

Dozens of courts are being reviewed and a decision is expected by Christmas on which is likely to close.

* The Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard have submitted evidence to the Justice Ministry supporting retention of the Wisbech court house.

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