Plans to shut Goole's Courts and transfer cases to Beverley were discussed by the ERYC’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee. As a committee member I spoke at length against the plans to close Goole's Magistrates and County Court, others also spoke against and the committee agreed to object to the move.
For me this is about keeping justice local, and for it to be seen as such.
The figures provided by Her Majesty’s Courts Service (hmcs) were clearly flawed and encouraged comparisons between the urban areas of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, and the town of Goole and the surrounding rural area.
We saw figures about the time a courtroom is used against the hours it is available to be used - 63% at courts in the rural Humber area against 65% in the more urban South Yorkshire Area. But local JP John Hall confirmed that Goole itself has a utilisation rate around 70% (hmcs inadvertently missed off this figure for Goole – astonishing as this being the Court planned for closure).
If the Goole Court is closed it will mean court users making a 56-mile round trip to Beverley. The court users are not just those facing justice but also includes, the victims, witnesses, their friends, families and support workers – it’s not just the cost (£11.70 by rail) but the inconvenience if public transport is to be used. A couple of hours off work to attend the Goole Court can turn into a half day or full day off to travel to Beverley. This would also be applicable to the Police, with the Goole Court at present being directly above the Police Station (using the police cells for holding those awaiting justice). The Police would have to travel to Beverley to give evidence – I questioned the cost implication in fuel, officers time and cover arrangements, and why this had not been factored in to the hmcs figures.
I suspect the cost savings to hmcs will be much smaller than the increased costs to the Police, Court staff and the public who have to travel. The action of one public service body to save money would result in much greater costs to others, in this case savings to the Courts would increase costs to the Police.
I raised the point that crime rates are higher in urban areas like Goole, therefore it is important to have justice being delivered in the area of most need, and that Justice is seen to have been done. The Goole Times covers many court cases in the paper, would this happen if the ‘time pressured’ journalist had to travel all the way to Beverley? I suggested not, resulting in local residents not being kept informed of the successes of the Police and Criminal Justice System in the area.
Goole JP John Hall also raised two interesting points when he said:
"We foresee more defendants not turning up because they are on low incomes or because they simply don't want to.”
“A lot can't even get into Goole for 9.30am so I don't know how they will get to Beverley."
Details of the consultation can be found at the Ministry of Justice website, where the 36 page document can be downloaded, and the link for feeding back comments. I urge people to contribute and take the opportunity to forward their comments
This can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-cp10-10.htm
(photo courtesy of East Riding Mail)