Ely Magistrates Court Under Threat of Closure
ELY magistrate s court is under threat of closure as the justice system moves to cut costs and centralise facilities in larger cities. A report leaked to the Ely Standard, reveals that courts at Ely, Sudbury and Mildenhall are recommended for closure,
ELY magistrate's court is under threat of closure as the justice system moves to cut costs and centralise facilities in larger cities.
A report leaked to the Ely Standard, reveals that courts at Ely, Sudbury and Mildenhall are recommended for closure, which could leave defendants and witnesses travelling as far as Huntingdon and Cambridge.
"The assets of Ely, Sudbury and Mildenhall are under-utilised assets, that should be disposed and the work load transferred to other local courts that require more work, to increase operational efficiency," states the report into court estates.
Maintenance costs run at around £97,000 per year for Ely alone, money that the report suggests should be used to invest in courts at Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.
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Ely magistrate's court sits on Tuesdays and Thursdays but as of July 2, cases involving the Crown Prosecution Service will only be heard on a Thursday, with lesser offences being restricted to the Tuesday session.
Court sources say that the move is part of a gradual plan to reschedule cases elsewhere - indeed the report recommends giving more work to Cambridge and Huntingdon courts.
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The future of court ushers, clerks and support staff hangs in the air, and magistrates have yet to be informed of their future role.
Meanwhile, massive investment has taken place in the courts service in other Cambridgeshire cities. Combined Huntingdon Law Courts opened in a new building in October 2007 and each of the three Cambridge courts, has been redeveloped in multi-million pound partnerships with the private sector.
Cambridge magistrate's court moved to a temporary home in Trumpington, South Cambridgeshire to make way for the Grand Arcade - it was due to move back to Central Cambridge earlier this year, but the £18million project is way behind schedule.
A senior magistrate, who did not want to be named, told the Ely Standard: "The magistrate's court gives the surrounding community a real sense of justice - there will be a loss of local knowledge which our bench has gleaned over the years. They understand the social and geographical elements of a case and know the local areas of concern because they are all from East Cambridgeshire - we certainly have a fight on our hands. It's a very narrow and blinkered report. It will achieve cost savings if it goes ahead, but justice in East Cambridgeshire will be the poorer for it."
Ely magistrate's court is a Grade II listed building and was built after the Littleport riots in the early 19th Century.
If sold off as an asset, the money will go straight to the Treasury and not to the Courts Service, but no changes could be made to the interior or exterior of the building.
Pauline Cranford, area director of Her Majesty's Courts Service for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk issued the following statement: "We began a review of the court estate in the area last year. On Friday, we published an internal report of the review to date. Within that report were a number of recommendations to be considered. This is included the closure of Ely, Mildenhall and Sudbury Magistrates courts as well as other recommendations regarding the use of the courts across the area. The report and its recommendations are now for further consideration. No decisions have been made as to which - if any - of the proposed recommendations will proceed further. However, during the summer, the area director and her team will have further discussions and meetings with the magistrates, judges and staff to agree how to proceed."
Ms Cranford refused to comment further - leaving the questions of when the move will happen, whether the public will be consulted, and the future of justice in the region hanging in the air.