The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council has said proposals that could see the closure Calderdale Magistrates Court, County Court and Family Court will make it more difficult for residents to access justice.
The proposals announced last week by the Ministry of Justice could see the closure of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales.
Coun James Baker (Warley) expressed concerns to full council that Calderdale residents “would be required to travel to Bradford to access justice,” adding that journey times to Bradford from many parts of Calderdale are “significantly longer than assumed” in the consultation documents.
In addition, Coun Baker said he was concerned that the Ministry of Justice’s proposals do not mention what will happen to Calderdale Magistrates’ historic courthouse - a Grade Two listed building which was built in 1872.
Coun Baker called for council leader Tim Swift (Lab, Town) to write to Justice Secretary Michael Gove to express the council’s opposition to the proposals and to assure that the Grade II listed courthouse will be protected and put to community use if the court is closed.
Coun Baker said: “Taken alongside cuts to legal aid the closure of local courts will restrict people’s access to justice, particularly for local residents who lack the means to travel easily.”
Coun Baker’s motion was given cross-party backing, and was passed unanimously by the council.
Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town), leader of Calderdale Council, said he was concerned about the economic impact that closing the courts will have on the town.
He said: “I’ve asked officers to try and map the economic effects of these proposals, and I’m going to be meeting with local solicitors to work out the economic impact.
“There’s a cluster of solicitors in that part of town, and the risk is that they’ll move to wherever the courts are and that will have a knock-on effect on the town.
“This will form part of our argument when we make our representation to the Government on this.”
He also said that yesterday morning (Thursday) the West Yorkshire Combined Authority has agreed to make representation on behalf of both Calderdale and Wakefield.
Coun Janet Battye (Calder), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I’m concerned not only that solicitors may move their offices to be near the court, but that consequently, there will be an impact on cafes and shops which they use so taking money out of the Halifax economy.”
Coun Stephen Baines (Northowram and Shelf), leader of the Conservative group, said: “The Conservative Group whilst acknowledging the need to make savings to reduce the Labour Governments excessive spending deficit we feel that to remove the court services from Calderdale is not in the best interests of the citizens of Calderdale nor the local economy. This is why we supported along with all the other Council groups the motion at Council.
“If it is necessary to reduce costs we could look to reduce into one court building.”