Banbury court closure: Solicitors concerned about end of local justice

Banbury Magistrates' Court NNL-180725-093801001
Banbury Magistrates' Court NNL-180725-093801001

Solicitors fear the critical concept of local, open justice will be diminished beyond repair as a result of the closure of Banbury Magistrates’ Court.

The Government’s decision to shut the court and sell the Warwick Road building, despite overwhelming opposition, was met with dismay from people across the town.

The Ministry of Justice argues the court is under used, the building is inadequate and it is reasonable to send people to Oxford magistrates’ and combined courts instead, which the Government says has sufficient space to cope.

Everyone involved with the court house is risk of losing their jobs, and having to travel to Oxford for hearings may jeopardise the ability of defendants and witnesses to get to court.

Johnson & Gaunt consultant solicitor Chris Edwards said: “It’s supposed to be local justice enforced by local people with local knowledge.

“They have spent a lot of money refurbishing the court and a plaque inside says its for local justice, which there won’t be when they shut the court.”

Johnson & Gaunt’s criminal department has been in Banbury for many decades.

Mr Edwards, who has been representing clients at Banbury Magistrates’ Court for nearly 40 years, said the business used to thrive but is the last criminal department left in Banbury.

The solicitor is opposed to sending witnesses and defendants on the difficult trip to Oxford.

Another issue is that defendants may have to look to solicitors in Oxford to represent them, instead of local ones.

Furthermore judges in Oxford will not have the same amount of knowledge about Banbury and its complexities, meaning someone’s actions may be judged differently.

Mr Edwards also believes the court building is fit for purpose and is being sold to make the most of the freehold value.

“It’s a very unfortunate step and very sad, I think,” he said.

It is not just Banbury folk who would be affected though. People in rural communities across north Oxfordshire, south Warwickshire and south Northamptonshire will also be forced to travel to Oxford which could take over an hour.

Satyanam Singh, a partner at Leport & Co. Solicitors, gave up his legal aid licence last year after more than 30 years working in the criminal sector in Banbury.

He said: “It will be sad to see local justice disappear which is best prescribed by local people and I fear for the inconvenience it will cause to defendants and witnesses shunting themselves all around the county.”