Solicitors in Bedford met with MPs Richard Fuller and Alistair Burt over the proposed closure of criminal hearings at Bedford Magistrates Court.
If closed, it is proposed that all criminal hearings will take place at Luton’s Magistrates Court, with the consultation report claiming travel times will not be an issue and cost savings made as a result.
However, the group, including the Bedfordshire Law Society’s committee and members, voiced their unease about these arguments and the potential for access to justice to be limited for those living in Bedford and its surrounding villages.
Alistair Burt MP stated that the proposed centralisation of such services would lead to a loss of access to justice for local people in the town and its surrounding rural areas.
Richard Fuller MP voiced apprehension about the potential loss of Bedford’s “business dynamism” if services were reduced - and the potential resulting negative effect this could have on the town’s economy.
The consultation report claims that those with disabilities who need to attend court, including both witnesses and defendants, will be better served by Luton’s Magistrates Court.
The Bedfordshire Law Society disagreed stating that there is a fully accessible courtroom at Bedford and that those with disabilities, especially from outside of the town centre, would encounter further inconvenience by having to travel further.
The group discussed with the MPs their belief that there is no real cost saving to be made by moving hearings from Bedford, as minors would have to be escorted over larger distances by youth teams and police officers will spend longer travelling to hearings further away from where they are required to be on active duty.
Concerns were raised that the underuse of the magistrates court as a result of moving criminal hearings will also lead to the potential movement of Family Law hearings to Luton in the future.
The Bedfordshire Law Society’s committee is concerned that if the court closes in Bedford, access to legal services for the local community will be affected, as some law firms may be forced to relocate some or all of their staff to Luton.
The meeting attendees agree Bedfordshire would be most effectively served by having two justice centres, in Bedford and Luton, in a model already proven to work successfully in neighbouring counties.
The questions raised regarding this consultation will now be raised with the appropriate channels. Anyone who would like to voice their opposition against the closure of Bedford Magistrates Court can do so by contacting the Bedfordshire Law Society on Karen.Chase@salaw.com