Have you ever had a niggling feeling you’ve forgotten something, one you just can’t shake off? That’s been me, ever since the closure of Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court was announced last month.
When the closure was proposed I wrote about how difficult it would be for anyone using public transport to reach alternative courts in Ipswich or Norwich and urged people to have their say before the consultation ended. But did I actually respond? No. And that’s what’s troubling me. It turns out only 132 people did.
On Sunday I was discussing this with a friend over a (non-alcoholic in my case) drink at Oakes Barn, in Bury. I said I felt the closure was not good for the democratic process and that I was troubled so few people – including myself – bothered to have their say. He said he did not really care because he lacks a strong and informed opinion on the matter, and the fact he is a law-abiding citizen means having to travel further to a court is not an issue for him. In a way I can see his point, but he is missing a bigger picture.
In my days as a journalist I frequently covered court stories. A few times I went to Ipswich Crown Court and once I sat in on a murder trial at Norwich Crown, but more often than not I was at Bury Mags (as it was affectionately known). The cases ranged from traffic offences, to assaults, to more serious crimes being sent to crown court. But almost all were reported in the Bury Free Press afterwards.
So while Bury Mags closing might not appear to be a problem for most people, I fear it might result in a reduction in the number of court stories printed in our local newspapers. Court reporting takes time that journalists these days can ill afford, particularly when a commute to Ipswich or Norwich is factored in. How many court stories will go unheard once Bury Mags closes? Where will you read about the crimes in your area and how would you find out one of your neighbours, friends or acquaintances had committed fraud, stolen from a shop, or assaulted someone?
So my niggling feeling persists, but I’ve sadly lost any chance to make a difference to this unfortunate decision.