Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Community Transport and Environment Panel is set to submit its response to the proposal to close Bath Magistrates Court & Family Court.
The Panel undertook a scrutiny inquiry day on 11th September to gather as much evidence on the key issues and or concerns raised by those potentially affected by the proposal, and understand the positive and negative impacts of the proposal.
This consultation proposes the closure of Bath Magistrates and County Court and Family Court or North Avon (Yate) Magistrates Court, and the transfer of the workload to Bristol Magistrates Court.
The capacity at Bristol Magistrates Court would only support the workload from either Bath Magistrates Court or North Avon Magistrates Court (Yate) and the responses to the consultation will inform the decision on whether either of the two proposals are implemented.
Key stakeholders listened to invited speakers, firstly from the Ministry of Justice who provided an introduction to the consultation process and then from the local district judge and magistrates.
Many people were invited to speak at this meeting to share how this proposal would affect them and the services that they deliver.
In order to help answer each of the key questions raised within the proposal document and report back to the Ministry of Justice (HM Courts & Tribunal Services), these responses were captured through a series of workshop sessions on the day which addressed each of the questions.
Cllr John Bull (Labour, Paulton), Chairman of the Community Transport and Environment Policy Development & Scrutiny Panel, said: “Overall we do agree with the merits of developing a greater and more efficient service, but one which provides local justice for local people.
“There were many concerns raised during the scrutiny inquiry day but some of the most pertinent concerns are that; moving court cases to Bristol would make access to justice more difficult for poorer and more vulnerable defendants and witnesses, especially those from rural areas, because of the increased cost and time to get to Bristol.
“We question the usage figures given for Bath courthouse and the figures given for travel times and costs which do not appear to be an accurate reflection of actual usage.
“Furthermore, the work of the justice system would be impeded because crucial agencies such as the Probation Service would not be on hand at Bristol for Bath defendants.
“There would be an increased likelihood of defendants and witnesses not appearing in court or absconding.
“It is likely that some Bath magistrates would not be prepared to sit at Bristol, leading to a reduction in the bench having local knowledge of Bath.
“We see only limited scope for use of digital channels rather than face-to-face appearances.”
“We are not aware of local buildings that would serve the same purpose as the present courthouse without considerable expenditure on security and disruption to other users.”
No final decision on the proposals will be made until the collective response has been reported back to the Ministry of Justice. The deadline date for the consultation is 8th October 2015.
To respond to this consultation online, email: Scrutiny@bathnes.gov.uk or visit the consultation page here.