Banbury Magistrates’ and County Court will close and be sold as the government seeks to save money, it was announced today (Tuesday, July 24).
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced plans to shut the court to ‘improve the utilisation of the regional court estate and to provide better value for money for taxpayers’.
No date has been set for the closure as ‘there are a number of factors to consider’, and discussions will take place with the trade union on staffing impacts.
The announcement is already causing dismay with the MP and council criticising the decision and a trade union boss saying staff and members of the public will have to travel further, adding ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis said she is ‘extremely disappointed’ and urged for alternative venues for justice proceedings in Banbury to be explored. “I made it very clear in my consultation response that centralising judicial proceedings at Oxford was not a viable solution given the distance people will have to travel and capacity issues at the courts in Oxford,” she said.
“We know only too well from the Horton campaign that Oxford is simply too far, particularly for those using public transport.
She added: “Having spoken to local councillors and organisations, there seems to be broad support for the idea of using the town hall for court proceedings.
“I am absolutely committed to making sure Banbury remains a viable location for local justice.”
Cherwell District Council leader Cllr Barry Wood added: “Cherwell is a growing district, and all residents here need to be able to count on a good range of public services.
“Whilst the council supports many efforts to save the taxpayer money, making victims, witnesses and others affected by crime travel to Oxford to see justice done needs some innovative thinking.”
A consultation was launched in January asking for views on the proposal to close the Thames Valley courts, which received 90 responses, 88 per cent of which were in opposition to the plans.
The announcement caused a lot of outrage from across the town, including Cherwell District Council, the Labour Party and MP, described as a ‘hammer blow’ to local justice.
HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) 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.
Delivery director for the south east region, Donna Bolton, wrote in a report on the closure: “Oxford Magistrates’ Court provides sufficient hearing room space and facilities to support the relocation of criminal work and we consider that journey times will be reasonable.
“Therefore, following careful consideration and detailed analysis of each of the responses received, the Lord Chancellor has decided to close Banbury Magistrates’ Court and relocate the work to Oxford Magistrates’ Court.
“County court work will be relocated to Oxford Combined Court.”
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) disagrees with the government and is committed to opposing all redundancies and compulsory relocations and any measures that place our members’ or the public’s safety at risk.
PCS MoJ assistant group secretary Karen Watts said: “We believe efficiency and flexibility are euphemisms for cuts to a public service which is already creaking under unrelenting pressure and chronic under-funding and is largely reliant on the goodwill and professionalism of our members.
“These closures are likely to mean staff and members of the public travelling further, in more difficult circumstances, particularly for disabled staff and users and at greater cost.
“They are also likely to result in delays to cases being heard. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
While Banbury and Bicester Labour Party leader Sean Woodcock said: “Once again people in Banbury are being asked to travel to Oxford in order to access basic public services; this time justice.
“People here are fed up of being treating as a satellite of Oxford. We are a community in our own right and deserve proper investment in local infrastructure and services.”
Maidenhead Magistrates’ Court, Blackfriars Crown Court, Chorley Magistrates’ Court, Fleetwood Magistrates’ Court, Northallerton Magistrates’ Court and Wandsworth County Court will also be closing.
All courts were assessed on the basis of ensuring access to justice, delivering value for money and the ability to offer efficiency in the long term.
Lord Chancellor David Gauke said: “All money raised from the sale of these buildings will be reinvested into the justice system, and we want to reassure communities that those affected by closures will have access to alternative courts.
“We must ensure we use public money effectively and make decisions in the best interest of the wider justice system.”
Ms Bolton added in her report: “In the long-term, the savings and any capital receipts generating from the closure will contribute towards funding the reform of HMCTS including improvements at courts receiving the work of a closing court.
“Overall, therefore, we consider that the decision to close Banbury Magistrates’ and County Court and Maidenhead Magistrates’ Court and the likely resulting impacts considered above represent a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of a modernised, efficient court and tribunal service.”