THAMES Valley’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has vowed to fight any closure by stealth of Newbury’s magistrates’ court.
Its future is once again in doubt, despite a hard-won reprieve in 2010.
Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats spokeswoman, Judith Bunting, has also pledged support to the cause and has written to the Minister of State for Justice, Lord McNally, seeking assurances.
The court was saved from the axe following a massive campaign in 2010.
But increasingly, the Newbury Weekly News has revealed, local cases are allocated to courts in Slough and Reading, and the number of days the Newbury bench sits has been cut.
Last week it emerged that Newbury MP Richard Benyon had failed to win satisfactory assurances over its future from the deputy director of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), Chris Jennings.
PCC Anthony Stansfeld said this week he had been similarly rebuffed.
He added: “I asked the Criminal Justice Board directly if they planned to close the court and I didn’t get a very straight answer. I can make myself pretty difficult if they do decide to try to close it and, of course, there would have to be another consultation first. I would expect a proper consultation - not one where minds are made up in advance.”
Meanwhile Ms Bunting has written to Lord McNally: “Newbury court was saved from closure in 2010 following a massive cross-party campaign. Now, local cases are increasingly allocated to courts in Slough and Reading and rumours emanating from magistrates, solicitors and staff suggest the building is being deliberately under-used so its closure can be justified in the near future.
“I would be grateful if you could reassure me that this is not the case; that Newbury court is not scheduled for closure...I ask you to do everything you can to resist any suggestion that (it) should close.”
In the meantime, it is claimed, the building is becoming dilapidated.
One former chairman of the bench said he had asked Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service years ago to repair an allegedly dangerous porch roof at the rear, yet nothing has been done.
And Mr Stansfeld said: “I have told them in no uncertain terms to tidy up the front of the court, particularly the exterior and the railings.”
In his reply to Mr Benyon, Mr Jennings wrote: “HMCTS continues to face funding challenges in the coming years and we need to ensure HMCTS can operate more efficiently, deliver value for money and continue to deliver on our obligations to our customers. This includes looking at the most efficient use of our estate.
“HMCTS is therefore continuing to keep the use of its estate under review to ensure it continues to meet operational requirements.”