Tue, 18 Feb 2020
THREE years after the announcement that West Berkshire Magistrates’ Court in Newbury was to close, it is being demolished today.
Back in February 2016 the Lord Chancellor’s closure announcement was a slap in the face for then MP Richard Benyon and for his fellow Conservative, police and crime commissioner (PCC) Anthony Stansfeld, as they had both opposed the move.
A Government statement said at the time: “The Lord Chancellor has decided to close West Berkshire (Newbury) Magistrates’ Court and move the workload to Reading Magistrates’ Court. Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has to have due regard to ensure its estate is utilised to deliver justice efficiently and effectively while providing value for money to the public purse.”
Mr Stansfeld said the closure decision was made “in spite of... overwhelming opposition from local councils, MPs, magistrates, and many other interested parties... furthermore, the decision flies in the face of the ministry’s own pledge to put the victim first. It will result in more failed cases as victims and witnesses will have to travel long distances to get to courts. It will waste a considerable amount of police time getting officers to courts.”
He added: “It takes local justice away from the areas in which crimes are committed. Local justice will not be seen to be done…it will prevent good people becoming magistrates if they have to commute long distances to attend cases. It does nothing for the victims of crime or the effectiveness of the criminal justice system... it would seem to waste money rather than save it, at the expense of local criminal justice.”
The Berkshire Magistrates Association said the closure was “entirely against the interests of all court users and of the wider community of West Berkshire.”
It added that closure will “result in victims of crime who live to the west of Newbury, not to mention council officials, solicitors and police officers, undertaking an 80 mile round trip to attend court in Reading, or a 120 mile round trip to attend court in Maidenhead” and that it was “unreasonable to assume that all individuals will have access to a road vehicle”.
Justice Minister at the time, Shailesh Vara said: “The decision to close a court is never taken lightly, but in the digital age I am confident we have measures in place to ensure access to justice is not diminished.”