PONTEFRACT Magistrates’ Court will close 18 months ahead of schedule.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed yesterday the adult, youth and family court on Front Street will close in March 2013 and not September 2014 as previously planned.
A spokesman for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said the decision was made due to the standard of facilities at the site.
He said: “Following a change in circumstances at Pontefract Magistrates’ Court, including the loss of cell accommodation, and after discussions between the bench chairman and local management team, it has been decided to bring the date of the court closure forward to March 2013.
“The standard of accommodation and the facilities provided at Pontefract Magistrates’ Court fall short of the minimum requirement for the provision of services expected by our customers.”
HMCTS confirmed all criminal cases currently heard in Pontefract will transfer to Wakefield Magistrates’ Court and all family cases will transfer to the new Wakefield Civil Justice Centre which opens in January.
They added, all Pontefract Magistrates’ staff will transfer to the Wakefield court and the distance between the two sites is less than ten miles with a good transport network linking the two.
But Yvette Cooper, MP for Pontefract and Castleford, branded the news “unacceptable”.
She said: “Closing Pontefract Magistrates’ Court like this is absolute madness. It’s bad for local justice and local communities and I’m shocked at reports the government have brought the closure forward to March.
“Local people who have been victims or witnesses of crimes or antisocial behaviour have made it very clear that they don’t want to travel all the way to Wakefield to get justice, and there isn’t enough room at the Wakefield court so people will have to wait longer for a hearing too. This is completely unacceptable.”
The Express launched its ‘Keep Justice Local’ campaign in July 2010 after the government announced plans to shut 98 magistrates’ courts and 49 county courts across England and Wales.
More than 1,100 concerned residents and community leaders signed the petition but court bosses decided in December 2010 the town’s magistrates’ and county courts would close in September 2014.
Denis Lofthouse, of Lofthouse & Co Solicitors in Castleford, slammed the court service for its “mismanagement” of the closure.
He added: “I think it just shows an absolute lack of ability on the part of the courts service to manage the closures.
“It’s going to be detrimental to the local community and it will affect local firms of solicitors who have made plans in accordance with the closure plans. It’s complete mismanagement.
“The only way the court is functioning at the moment is on the good will between court staff, solicitors and prosecutors who are doing their best to made a bad system work as best they can.”