Why I believe Jonathan Djanogly’s decision to close Fenland magistrates court simply ‘beggars belief’.

JONATHAN Djanogly, Under Secretary of State for Justice, announces the closure of 93 magistrates courts and then says: “I am very anxious to assure people that there is a crucial role for magistrates in the justice system, and that I am willing to see that role strengthened.

“I would be interested in any views and suggestions that people have on this topic”.

Presumably what he means is that there is a crucial role for a lot less magistrates!

In the document on closures (www.justice.gov.uk) there is reference to Neighbourhood Justice Panels.

Mr Djanogly said: “I am interested in the idea of magistrates being heavily involved in this development”.

It has been suggested that where magistrates’ courts are closed such panels would be introduced comprising members of the public to manage low level crime and restorative justice.

Apparently he has visited benches and magistrates mssociated branches where there has been an overwhelmingly strong view that such panels should comprise magistrates who are well trained, mentored and appraised.

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Well, he didn’t come to Wisbech, but if he had I guess that the question would have gone something like ....

Presumably you need a building, one large enough to accommodate the panel, the defendant, any legal people such as solicitors, those who would oversee any punishment, probably Probation?

Oh, I’ve got an idea, let’s build a magistrates court!

Jonathon Djanogly beggars belief!

In Fenland, magistrates have expressed grave concern about the impact of the closure. The responses to the consultation have provided clear evidence it will adversely impact on court users and easy access to justice.

For this area, community summary justice will be seriously compromised, and the closure seems contrary to the principles of the ‘Big Society’. However, it is clear that the final decision has been made.

I have expressed disappointment and concern with regard to the consultation process and the quality of the information provided by the Minister in the closure document.

I am not satisfied that the additional information provided by Fenland magistrates and our local solicitors, headed by John Clarke, has been properly taken into account. As far as I know there is no appeals procedure.

The next stage will be the creation of a new local justice area to enable cases that would normally be heard in King’s Lynn (Norfolk/Cambs boundaries) which has not been possible previously.

This will be a sensitive and difficult time for some involved with the Wisbech court.

However, in my view, the amount of work that could be transferred will probably mean that King’s Lynn will not require, or possibly even want, magistrates from the Fenland Bench.

The situation with Peterborough is different. Cambridgeshire cases will continue to be heard in Cambridgeshire and the Fenland Bench will amalgamate with the Peterborough Bench at the beginning of 2012 to become the ‘North Cambridgeshire Bench’.

I am afraid though, that by that time, we will have lost many of the Fenland members through their reluctance to travel to Peterborough.

For my part? I have been a magistrate for 20 years, am deputy chair of the Fenland Bench and deputy chair of the combined Peterborough, Huntingdon and Fenland Youth panel.

I regularly sit at other courts and, although I am very disappointed that the Wisbech courthouse is to close, the closure will not stop me from continuing until I am 70 and am forced to retire.


Deputy Chair, Fenland Bench

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