Save Ely Mags Court: Online Petition
ELY magistrates have resigned in a row over the closure of the city courthouse and the Ely Standard is giving you the chance to add you voice to the debate. If you don t want to see this local facility lost for ever, sign our petition. Five of the bench
ELY magistrates have resigned in a row over the closure of the city courthouse and the Ely Standard is giving you the chance to add you voice to the debate. If you don't want to see this local facility lost for ever, sign our petition.
Five of the bench decided it was time to hang up their hats after Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) announced it was "mothballing" the historic building and moving all cases to Cambridge at the end of the financial year.
"I don't want to traipse all the way over to Cambridge," said one magistrate, who wanted to remain anonymous. "We are an East Cambs bench - a local bench and not a Cambridge bench. Most of us have been doing it for years - I have been a magistrate for 18 and it will leave a great gap in my life."
"Most of our clients are on benefits," continued the magistrate, "and expecting them to stump up the cost of travelling to Cambridge is passing the buck from the courts service to the user. I think we will see a lot more breaches [of sentences and court orders] as a result. "
"It is difficult enough for me to get to Cambridge - its takes about an hour - and police taking people for court appearances from Ely are doing about an hour each way. They have to have two officers with each offender so that's two officers out for two hours at a time. I think police are going to struggle to cope and what are the Probation Service going to do without a base in the building? All budgeting has a knock on effect somewhere else - it's sad that the city has to suffer."
Her Majesty's Court Service insisted the decision was made "locally" which was scotched by all those the Ely Standard spoke to.
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"It was not a local decision, believe me," she added. "There is no way that any of our bench would have agreed to this. It's such a pity to leave the building, which will disintegrate. What on earth are they going to do with a listed building? An important building for the city will be left without any heating on to decay."
The magistrate said she was disappointed at the reaction locally. "The city deserves a courthouse. But then it has been all very underhand, very slick," she added.
Also losing out are hundreds of East Cambs' schoolchildren who were given an insight into court life and treated to a mock trial with magistrates in a unique initiative. "The Magistrates in the Community programme was set up by Janet South and has been running for five or six years," said the Ely magistrate. "I was talking to one of the heads who said he wouldn't be able to take the children out to Cambridge. It was so important for the children to see how justice worked - it is them that will lose out."
When a report recommending court closure was leaked to the Ely Standard last year, staff who spoke out were reprimanded to the point nobody would talk to us without remaining anonymous. Despite a Freedom of Information request, HMCS refused to make their decision-making process transparent and have yet to fully explain how the decision to close the court was arrived at.
Her Majesty's Courts Service was asked by the Department of Justice to make �1million of savings in the Anglian region over the next two years and Area Director Pauline Cornford decided to recommend Ely magistrates court's closure in a round of stringent cuts.
The court is due to close its 19th century doors for a final time on Thursday, March 26.
There will be a mass assembly of interested parties at the public gallery of the court on March 26, the last day the court sits. Join Ely Standard staff in celebrating the 200 years' of local justice and register your displeasure against centralisation of public services.