Minister challenged over Fenland court closure threat
TRAVELLING times to get to a court will not be the major consideration when ministers decide the future of Fenland Magistrates’ Court.
Courts Minister Jonathan Djanogly has admitted that while proximity to a court is important, other factors including the speed with which cases are dealt with and the quality of facilities will also have to be considered.
The court at Wisbech is set to close because it is judged to be “underused and inadequate”. It has been included in wide ranging cutbacks proposed to save money and transform the criminal justice system.
Mr Djanogly’s comments were in response to a question from North East Cambs MP Stephen Barclay who asked what account was being taken over the availability of public transport in rural areas around Wisbech in his decision to propose closure of the court.
Mr Djanogly said: “In selecting courts on which to consult, one of the key principles applied was to try and ensure that people should not have to make excessively long or difficult journeys to attend court.
“Although it is important, proximity to the court should not be the only consideration – we need also to consider the speed with which cases are dealt with and the quality of the facilities at our courts.
“We also want to explore ways we can harness technology more effectively so people do not necessarily physically have to attend court when accessing court services.”
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Mr Barclay also wanted to know if the number of people affected by a journey of more than 60 minutes had been taken into consideration in view of the significant increases in population during recent years.
Mr Djanogly said it was envisaged work from Wisbech court would be transferred to Peterborough – a journey of 23 miles. He said: “Population is only one aspect to consider. We must also consider the frequency of court attendance, which is very low in Wisbech, with a utilisation of only 37 per cent.”
Fenland magistrates met on Wednesday evening to formulate their response to the proposed closure.