Success for Wychavon fuels fight over magistrates courts

A COUNCIL's successful fight to prevent a magistrates' court from closing down has prompted six other local authorities to resist the axing of courts by cash-strapped Magistrates' Courts Committees (MCCs).

Last month Wychavon District Council won its battle to persuade the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine to block the closure of Droitwich and Evesham courts.

Since then Nigel Roberts, the former in-house lawyer for Wychavon District Council, who led the fight to keep the courts open, has been busy fielding queries from other councils which want to follow his lead.

One of the lawyers who has turned to him for advice is Clive Moore, head of legal at Shepway District Council based in Folkestone.

Moore is attempting to prevent possible closure by the Kent MCC of the local court-house, which handles most of the council's prosecution work. “The council is taking this very seriously,” he said. “We will oppose strenuously any move to closure the Folkestone magistrates' court, which would throw a spanner in the works as far as access to local justice is concerned.”

Moore has set up a lobby group with local solicitors and court users to fight the matter.

Other councils are at advanced stages of talks with the Lord Chancellor's Department over closure concerns. Torfaen County Borough Council in South Wales officials met the Parliamentary Secretary Geoff Hoon to discuss the issue last week.