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Dudley borough's last criminal court faces the axe
5:43pm Wednesday 18th September 2013 in News
SEEING justice done in the Dudley borough could become a thing of the past if radical new government changes to the court system are approved.
The Ministry of Justice is proposing to transfer criminal cases to other parts of the Black Country - leaving Dudley Magistrates Court to handle just civil, family and tribunal cases.
If the department gets its way people would have to travel to Sandwell and Walsall for pre-trial hearings and Wolverhampton Magistrates Court would become the trial centre for the Black Country.
A consultation document on the plan, from HM Courts and Tribunal Service, said: "Given the reduction in workload and resources and the need to increase efficiency and reduce cost across the criminal justice system, a review of the listing pattern across the Black Country is imperative."
Between April 2012 and March 2013 the number of cases dealt with by the courts in the Black Country fell by 20 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year and none of the region's courts hit their target of dealing with 75 per cent of cases within four weeks.
However the possibility of losing the borough’s last remaining criminal court has left Dudley’s MP, Ian Austin, horrified and he has already begun a campaign to fight the proposal.
Mr Austin said: "These plans are an outrage and should be dropped immediately.
“It’s important justice is seen to be done locally, with local people seeing those who break the law in their community punished."
He said the plans would make it harder for victims of crime, magistrates, and journalists in the Dudley borough to get involved in cases.
The MP also warned that people working at the courts could be moved or made redundant as part of the proposed changes, which come just a few years after the closure of both Stourbridge and Halesowen Magistrates Courts.
Stourbridge solicitor Michael Davies, senior partner at Sanders & Co in Hagley Road, said: “It’s very, very disappointing but part of a recurring theme in an attempt to save money - as to whether they will save money remains to be seen.
“What they’re doing doesn’t make an awful lot of sense from the outside.”
He said local law firms would likely migrate further north in the Black Country - and he added that his firm, which for many years defended those in need of legal aid, decided earlier this year to no longer handle publicly funded cases.
Mr Davies, a duty solicitor for the borough’s courts for 27 years, said: “Those clients I used to act for – some of whom have very significant difficulties regarding addiction and come from areas of deprivation - are going to find it difficult to get to court.”
Major Robins, former chairman of Stourbridge’s old police sector meetings and now Stourbridge UKIP chairman, added: “Defendants will have to travel more and all that does is increase the public costs. It’s a stupid idea.”
Dudley Council's cabinet member for community safety, cllr Steve Waltho, said he would prefer to see Dudley criminals dealt with in the borough and he added: "People like to feel and touch justice, they want to see justice being done. It is important to people.”
A consultation on the plan runs until Monday October 21.
For more details or to have a say email WMWJCO@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk with Black Country Listing Consultation in the subject field.
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