Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles has criticised proposals to close Buxton Magistrates’ Court, warning the move would create “unacceptable” travelling times for vulnerable victims and witnesses.
The Commissioner was asked to formally respond to the Ministry of Justice’s plans to close the court in Terrace Road, Buxton, and move services to Chesterfield Court as part of a wider project to shut 91 courts across the country.
Commissioner Charles said he did not support the plans and described proposals to shift the court’s caseload to Chesterfield – some 25 miles away – as “unreasonable” and “unfair” to victims and witnesses living in the High Peak.
Criticising the consultation paper itself, the Commissioner said it did not adequately taking into account the geography of the county, particularly the fact that Buxton was situated within the High Peak district which was very rural in nature and limited in terms of access to public transport to Chesterfield.
If the plans went ahead, he said up to 73% of people who use public transport would be forced to endure more than two hours of travelling time to get to Chesterfield – a situation which was in danger of breaching the Ministry of Justice’s own guidelines about access to justice.
“Buxton is the highest market town in the country above sea level and is located in the heart of the peak district which can only be accessed by rural A and B class roads,” he said.
“Snowfall is significantly higher than most areas in the county and can have a disruptive effect on travel in the area during the winter months. Asking people to travel to Chesterfield, especially the vulnerable, is not going to be viable or serve the needs of fair justice.
“The proposals do primarily focus on buildings and its usage but there is no real mention of the impact of delivering and achieving justice for victims and witnesses. This should have been at the heart of the proposals but there is no discussion or evidence suggesting victims and witnesses would benefit in anyway.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, a cohort of my constituents will be directly impacted if these proposals are implemented. I have particular concerns for the most vulnerable victims and witnesses such as those who have endured domestic or sexual abuse and will be forced to travel long distances to attend court. There is a strong and real possibility that they may be deterred from attending which impacts heavily on justice being served.”
Commissioner Charles went on to say if the proposals were implemented it would be better to transfer the caseload to courts in the North West such as Stockport or Manchester – or Ashton for Glossopdale residents – as these were far more accessible from the High Peak. Ironically, residents would have to travel via Stockport or Manchester to get to Chesterfield if using public transport, he added.
“These proposals are based solely on asset and building usage without consideration of the impact on vulnerable victims of crime in their pursuit of achieving fair justice,” he said.
“I am seriously concerned that many victims, but particularly victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse, who often need significant levels of support from Independent Domestic Violence Advisers, may be pushed into a position of feeling unable to add this additional level of anxiety to what they have already suffered and withdraw from the criminal justice process.”
The Government has proposed closing 91 courts including the Buxton court as part of plans to reform courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The courts earmarked for closure are deemed unused or under-used. Proposals have included people in rural locations accessing services or hearings through other civic and public buildings.
Derbyshire’s formal response to the plans will now be sent to the Courts Service and Commissioner Charles hopes it will rethink the decision and come up with a better solution for the public.
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Posted on Tuesday 29th September 2015