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Daily demands ministers reverse local court closures

Dominic RaabA regional daily has called on the Government to reverse local court closures amid an “ever growing backlog of cases”.

The Yorkshire Post has made the plea in order to help both the victims of crime and innocent defendants who face delays in clearing their names.

A number of similar pleas have been made in recent years following court closures, with Thames Valley police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld claiming in 2016 regional journalists would “not turn up” to hearings held away from their patch.

In the same year, then-Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said such closures would make it harder for local newspapers to cover cases as 86 courts were shut by the Government.

In 2018, courts in Banbury, Chorley, Fleetwood, Maidenhead and on the Post’s patch in Northallerton were closed, although Cambridge Magistrates’ Court was spared after a camping by Cambridge News court reporter Tara Cox.

In an editorial, the Post said: “The consequence of the past decade’s cost-cutting is justice becoming both delayed – and remote – as the closure of courts coincides with an ever growing backlog of cases.

“Now Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee points to a 400 per cent increase since the pandemic in the number of serious cases taking over a year before actually being heard in crown courts.

“These delays undermine trust in the police following a succession of scandals and claims of institutional misogyny, but they’re particularly cruel for victims of violent crimes, whose lives are on hold until the conclusion of proceedings.

“It should also be said that these delays are traumatic for the innocent trying to clear their names.”

The Post went on to address Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, pictured, directly in the editorial, published yesterday.

It added: “As the PAC accuses the Ministry of Justice of having a “meagre ambition” when it comes to clearing the backlog, this newspaper today urges Mr Raab to set the record straight and come up with a far more robust plan to tackle this burning injustice, including the reopening of former courts where necessary.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman told HTFP: “The crown court backlog has fallen significantly in recent months and we are on track to get through a fifth more cases next year than in the year running up to the pandemic.

“This is thanks to our half-a-billion-pounds plan to speed up justice – including unlimited court sitting days, Nightingale Court extensions and greater powers for magistrates – while our £4 billion prison-building programme will deliver 20,000 more places by the mid-2020s.”