AddThis SmartLayers

Police chief hits out over impact of court closures on local press

Anthony StansfieldA police chief has condemned the impact of court closures on the regional press, claiming it will lead to justice “not being seen to be done.”

Anthony Stansfeld, left, the police and crime commissioner for the Thames Valley, issued the warning after the Ministry of Justice announced it will close three courts in the area under his control.

Mr Stansfeld, a Conservative, said local newspapers would not turn up to cases being heard “many miles away”, adding the MoJ had ignored its own consultation into the closures of courts at Aylesbury, Bicester and Newbury.

The editor of the Newbury Weekly News, which first reported Mr Stansfeld’s comments, described the plan as “very bad news indeed for open justice.”

Mr Stansfeld said the proposal “flies in the face” of the Ministry’s pledge to put victims first.

He added: “It will result in more failed cases as victims and witnesses will have to travel long distances to get to courts. It will waste a considerable amount of police time getting officers to courts.

“It takes local justice away from the areas in which crimes are committed. Local justice will not be seen to be done as the local press will not turn up to cases heard in courts many miles away.

“It will prevent good people becoming Magistrates if they have to commute long distances to attend cases. It does nothing for the victims of crime or the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.”

The closure of the West Berkshire Court, in Newbury, would see reporters faced with a journey of almost 20 miles to cover cases in Reading.

Weekly News group editor Andy Murrill said: “The decision to close West Berkshire Magistrates’ Court is very bad news indeed for open justice. There has been a courthouse in Newbury dating back to 1666 and, even, though it now only operates once a week, it functions well and does a good job in dispensing local justice.

“Moving cases many miles away to various magistrates’ courts across Berkshire, and possibly Wiltshire, will cause huge inconvenience for victims, witnesses and police officers.

“It will also stretch our reporting resources to the limit as we can currently cover the majority of local cases in one day in Newbury town centre. In future we face having to send reporters to various courts, five days a week, in the hope we can find cases from West Berkshire buried among all the others.”

Added Andy: “We remain determined to cover court as it is so important that justice is seen to be done and reported to the public. But this won’t be easy and will inevitably require sacrifices elsewhere in our news operation.

“The very least they can now do know is arrange for cases from West Berkshire to be heard on the same day in the same court, whenever possible.

“The decision to close West Berkshire Magistrates’ Court was opposed by our MP Richard Benyon, Thames Valley police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld and local magistrates.

“I hope to work with all of them to ensure that we can continue to be able to cover local cases in the interests of open justice.”

A total of 86 courts and tribunal hearing centres will shut as part of the cuts – almost one fifth of such facilities in England and Wales.

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said:”The decision to close a court is never taken lightly, but in the digital age I am confident we have measures in place to ensure access to justice is not diminished.”


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • February 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Is it such a loss? A lot of weekly papers are so poorly staffed that they do not bother to attend local courts regularly and often not at all. They rely on later press releases from police PROs, which are factually correct but unbalanced because they seldom contain one line of mitigation. (no criticism intended, that’s not their role).

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(8)
  • February 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    In fact we covered it week in, week out.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(3)
  • February 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Whilst this will make it more difficult for reporting, perhaps Mr Stansfeld would like to consider his posturing around the public knowing about crime in their area against how the organisation he does control, Thames Valley Police, operates. Its release of information to the public via the media has steadily decreased over many years. It is also a bit inconsistent to complain about the Court Service shutting down facilities to save money whilst overseeing another branch of the criminal justice system that is also shutting down buildings due to cost.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(4)
  • February 29, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Newspapers who close local offices complaining about others closing local premises. I have some cake – I may eat it as well.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)