Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill has written to the justice secretary about plans to close the town’s magistrates’ court - urging him that ‘access to justice remains local’.
In a letter to Michael Gove, Mrs Churchill outlined the ‘strong opposition’ many people feel about plans to close the court at Shire Hall, on Honey Hill.
She said: “My priority is that access to justice remains local.
“It is not appropriate or feasible that my constituetnts should have to travel, in some instances, 30 miles to access the justice services they pay for.”
Mrs Churchill also urged him to look ‘favourably’ at the ‘excellent opportunity’ to move the court to St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s expanding Public Service Village, in Western Way.
She said: “In working with St Edmundsbury Borough Council, it is apparent that the Public Service Village (PSV) at Western Way in Bury St Edmunds could provide the Court with improved accommodation that could be shared with other services when not in use.
“This is an excellent opportunity to deliver more cost efficient services across the board, while ensuring court services remain in Bury.
“Such a move will also locate the court adjacent to NHS and social services who will, it is anticipated, also take up residence in the PSV. Consequently, vulnerable constituents will have all the support they need when using the court.
“The design of the next phase of development for the PSV is still being formulated and any specific requirements a court service might have (for example, cells and van-docks) could be incorporated. Furthermore, this suggestion is completely in congruence with the Cabinet Office’s “One Public Estate Program”.
“I urge you to look on any such submission to the consultation favourably and would appreciate you preliminary thoughts on this proposal.”
The Ministry of Justice says the court costs about £272,000 a year to run and its current building Shire Hall is no longer fit for purpose.
However, opponents of the move argue it would damage the idea of local justice and force staff, defendants and potentiallly vulnerable victims to travel to Ipswich when public transport in the area is limited.
Meanwhile, St Edmundsbury Borough Council is urging residents to provide evidence ‘of the damage the plans could do to local justice’.
It wants to know how the Government proposals would affect people if they had to attend the court as a witness, defendant or a legal representative.
The authority will use the evidence in its response to the plans and to strengthen its offer of moving the magistrates’ court to its Public Service Village.
Examples of the difficulties the court’s closure would cause can be emailed by September 21 to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to Cllr John Griffiths, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, West Suffolk House, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3YU.
The Government consultation runs until October 8.