A centuries-old tradition of a local court dispensing local justice by local people has ended in Lancaster.
From April 1 the city’s magistrates’ bench merged with all others in the county to form the new single Lancashire bench.
A ceremony was held at the Lancaster courthouse last Thursday to mark this historic change in which Lancashire’s 670 Justices of the Peace will be able to sit at any courthouse in the county.
The event, attended by present and past magistrates, court staff and solicitors, was accompanied by a call from Lancashire’s Lord-Lieutenant to learn to embrace change.
Lord Shuttleworth, chairman of the Lord Chancellor’s advisory committee on the appointment of magistrates in Lancashire for nearly 20 years, said: “Change can be stimulating. It makes us look forward. We have to adapt to keep up-to-date.”
Congratulating all magistrates on their work and thanking all past and present bench chairmen, Lord Shuttleworth said: “It is one of the foundation stones of our legal system.”
For Stephen Lamley, the occasion marked his retirement as the last Lancaster bench chairman and after 15 years as a magistrate.
During this time the number of Lancaster magistrates has halved to fewer than 60.
He said the change was all about using resources more effectively, enabling justices to hear a variety of cases and giving the Courts Service much more flexibility in allocating justices to where the work is.
He explained that the Lancaster courthouse would deal with some work from Kendal courthouse, which is expected to close this summer, and also accommodate Lancaster County Court when it moves from Mitre House within the next two years.
Warm tributes to Mr Lamley’s service were led by Jim Dickinson, a deputy chairman both of the outgoing Lancaster Bench and the incoming Lancashire Bench.
He had always been an impressive administrator, said Mr Dickinson, either as bench chairman or as Secretary of Lancaster University, which is to award him an honorary fellowship in May.
“He has kept Lancaster front and centre, ensuring that our voices have been heard.
“The commitment he has made to our bench and to us has been tremendous.”
Mr Lamley, who previously served as chairman of the advisory sub-committee and as an appraiser, was presented with a certificate recording his service by the Lord-Lieutenant and a gift on behalf of his colleagues by Angela Blowes, retiring deputy chairman.
First chairman of the new Lancashire bench is Frank Shipway of Blackpool.