The Government are considering whether to close Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and move its workload to Ipswich or Norwich.
The proposal is part of a Ministry of Justice consultation which could see 57 magistrates’ courts, 19 county courts and two crown courts close across the country.
Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court, in the Shire Hall, includes three courtrooms, all of which have a direct link to the custody suite and secure dock, and five custody cells.
According to Government documents, the venue was used for approximately 44 percent of its capacity during the 2014/15 financial year.
Bury St Edmunds Crown Court, which is also based at the Shire Hall, is one of two in Suffolk.
The Crown Court has not been used for some time however as there is ‘sufficient capacity and excellent facilities at Ipswich Crown Court’.
The report reads: “This building is freehold and was built in 1841.
“It is Grade II listed, which makes it difficult to adapt to meet modern standards and requires listed planning approval.
“The accommodation is inadequate and in need of modernisation.
“There are security issues for the custody vehicles in that they can only load and unload defendants on the street near the custody entrance and the vans are required to park on the street.”
The report continues:“It is proposed that Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed.
“Should they be closed the existing Magistrates’ and family workload would be moved to Ipswich Magistrates Court and Family Court and Norwich Magistrates Court and Family Court.”
“It is proposed that victim and witness facilities will be installed at Bury St Edmunds County Court and Tribunals which would enable court users, in suitable matters, to give evidence by video link.
“There is no crown court work currently being held at Bury St Edmunds Crown Court.”
There are 13 members of staff permanently based at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court.
Its operating costs for the last financial year were around £272,000.
Stowmarket-based solicitor David Stewart, on behalf McCarthy Stewart Booty, said the proposed cuts would leave the country with a ‘barely functioning’ justice system.
He said he had serious concerns over what would happen to existing staff at the Bury court, the distance solicitors, defendants and witnesses would have to travel to get to Ipswich and the current state of Ipswich Magistrates Court.
He added: “Ipswich is bigger certainly but it is a building with major structural issues and can barely cope with the number of users now. “How it will cope with the amalgamation of three courts is hard to see.
“The Ministry of Justice are striving for less court hearings and more efficiency within all aspects of its remit.
“The only way to achieve this and to preserve the Rule of Law and Justice for all is sadly to invest rather than the current ‘slash and burn’ perceived cost saving.
“Unfortunately this government need properly to fund the system to have it function effectively and efficiently.
“This means more money for policing and the CPS, I/T and defence solicitors.
“The current and proposed cuts to all of this will leave this country with a barely functioning system where Justice (for victims and defendants) will be simply consigned to the history channel and irreparable damage will be the result.”
Daryl Griffiths, spokesman for Bury-based Burnett Barker Solicitors based in Bury St Edmunds, said the closures were ‘deeply concerning’.
He said: “With a client base stretching from Haverhill and Sudbury and up to Thetford and beyond, we would be particularly concerned for those of our clients on the lowest incomes, most of whom do not have access to a vehicle, nor the means to pay the costs of public transport to and from court, or the childcare costs related to attendance.
“There is an overall aspiration set out in the proposals for 95 percent of citizens across England and Wales to be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.
“In respect of Bury St Edmunds, the proposals suggest that the proportion of defendants in criminal cases whose travel time by public transport is at least one hour would rise from around 58 percent to 89 percent.
“These figures are based on travel from Bury St Edmunds’ town centre to Ipswich and ignore the many who don’t live in the town centre.
“The proposed changes would leave Suffolk with only one Magistrates’ Court, based in the south of the county (Ipswich), which would isolate many court users, particularly those in rural areas. “This is entirely at odds with one of the main stated principles behind these proposals, that of ensuring access to justice.”
The consultation, which begins today, will end on October 8.