Ancient court house saved

LAWYERS in Lancaster are celebrating a three-year stay of execution for an historic crown court threatened with closure.

A six-month campaign to keep the court open succeeded when the Lord Chancellor's Department agreed to review plans to transfer work from ancient Lancaster Castle to a new court complex at Preston.

Closure would have ended Lancaster's 800-year history as a centre of local justice. Assizes were first held there in 1166 and the town has played host to high-profile cases, including the trial of the six men accused of the IRA's Birmingham bombings in 1974.

But the history of the castle was itself part of the problem.

David Sykes, spokesman for the Lancaster, Morecambe and District Law Society, which led the campaign against closure, said: “The castle rooms, especially the shire hall, are splendid, but they certainly are not modern.”

Closure was mooted as part of a Northern Circuit centralisation plan, partly because of the costs of using the castle, which the courts share with Lancaster prison.

The society claimed the move would make justice more remote, causing problems for jurors, witnesses, victims and defendants.

They argued that problems caused by the castle's age could be overcome and that ending the town's 800 years of legal history would affect Lancaster's prestige.

“The reprieve is great news for Lancaster,” said Sykes. “The castle is a part of the business of the town, not a museum.”