Halifax MP Holly Lynch and Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon MP have warned that court closures are making it harder to secure justice, following a visit by Mr Burgon to Halifax where he met with local lawyers and politicians.
Calderdale Magistrates’ Court and Halifax County Court and Family Court closed in December 2016 marking the end of 140 years of justice provision in Halifax.
The closures were opposed at the time by local campaigners and Holly Lynch, who called on the Government to adopt a compromise position; closing just the County Court while maintaining provision at the Magistrates’ Court.
Halifax solicitor Mark Baxendale, of Baxendale Vanzie Solicitors on Prescott Street, explained the impact of Government cuts to the justice budget, saying:
“We are renowned for having one of the best Criminal Justice Systems in the world, but it cannot work unless the Government invests in it.
“There are major issues around inadequate prosecution disclosure, court closures and poorly maintained buildings.
“The present Lord Chancellor David Gauke recently said that he wanted to fix the ‘shattered justice system’ – this can be achieved but will require investment.
“I have been practicing as a Defence Solicitor for the best part of twenty five years and the morale within the Crown Prosecution Service, Probation Service, Court staff and Criminal Defence Practitioners has never been so low.”
Mr Burgon also heard how the closures meant that cases which were previously heard in Halifax were now being sent to Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds. Speaking after the meeting he said:
“The Government sold off over a hundred courts such as those in Halifax, each for not much more than the average UK house price. These sell offs have piled yet more pressure on the remaining courts and have seen hearings being further delayed and rescheduled. This can have a distressing impact on victims and witnesses and creates a justice system that’s less accessible for local people.
“Labour would invest in our justice system to ensure that those who need to defend their rights in the courts can do so.”
Halifax MP Holly Lynch hopes that video court links could help make it easier for people to give evidence without a lengthy journey out of town. She said:
“I have been repeatedly assured that the court closures in Halifax would be off-set by an investment from the Ministry of Justice in video links from certain locations in town which could live stream people’s testimony to any courtroom in the country.
“I have seen this technology in action during a fact finding trip to Kent Police last year and I’m convinced that it would solve a lot of the current issues. If already over-worked police, council staff and social workers, as well as victims of crime, are having to spend a whole day travelling to court and giving evidence this isn’t a good use of their time.
“A modern video link would help secure access to justice in our area and I’ll continue my campaign to ensure this investment takes place.”