More Lancaster court cuts on cards

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Further cuts to services at Lancaster Magistrates Court are being considered.

A consultation on the way court cases are dealt with across Lancashire and Cumbria could see the removal of custody cases, while proceedings for breach of probation orders would no longer be dealt with at Lancaster.

Lancaster solicitor John Halewood-Dodd said the court runs the risk of closure due to “death of a thousand cuts”.

Magistrate and Heysham South Coun Colin Hartley said local justice is being further eroded.

He said: “The number of cases heard in Magistrates’ Courts is falling so the consultation suggests centralising work.

“The effect on Lancaster could be that custody cases will no longer be heard here.

“Instead they could go to Barrow, Carlisle, Blackburn, Blackpool or Preston.

“Proceedings for breach of probation orders would not be dealt with at Lancaster.”

With capacity freed up, Coun Hartley added, Lancaster Magistrates Court could become one of five trials centres, taking work from other areas.

The consultation, which is being undertaken on behalf of the Cumbria and Lancashire Judicial Business Group (JBG), points out that more cases are being tried and concluded in the Magistrates’ Court.

Sentencing powers for magistrates could increase from six to 12 months’ imprisonment for a single offence, meaning more serious offences are kept at Magistrates Courts, resulting in more lengthy and complext proceedings.

The report concludes that currently the number of cases coming before the Magistrates’ Court has declined over successive years and is continuing to do so.

Mr Halewood-Dodd said: “This is another example of our importance being whittled away – death of a thousand cuts.

“We are also having local Youth Court cases centralised, and as such there will no longer be a Youth Court in Lancaster. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that when we no longer have custody cases, youth cases, probation breach cases, or motoring cases here at Lancaster then there is very little left. With no work to do then the argument that will inevitably follow will be that there is no need to have a court.

“It pains me to say it, but the writing’s been on the wall for some time.”

Coun Hartley added: “Not only does (this) downgrade Lancaster Court but one of the principles of Magistrates’ Courts was ‘local justice, administered by local people’.

“Local magistrates know the area, know the issues and are able to incorporate this knowledge into sentencing.

“This principle has been and continues to be eroded for administrative convenience and efficiency. Also, it’s important not to forget that people appearing in court are innocent until proven guilty.

“Why are innocent people being required to travel around the county, at possibly great inconvenience, to have their cases heard?”

The consultation runs until January 12.