PLANS to merge magistrates courts across Swindon and Wiltshire have sparked concern from MPs.
Swindon South MP Robert Buckland and Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson have spoken of their fears that the changes could see the meaning of local justice being lost.
The Ministry of Justice has decided to merge magistrates courts across Swindon and Wiltshire, which will mean that all remand cases from right across the county will now all be heard at Swindon.
In all but exceptional circumstances, trials will take place in Chippenham and the £19m Salisbury court development will handle family work, a limited number of early hearings and straight-forward cases involving an associate prosecutor.
The changes have been proposed on the grounds of a declining criminal case load, funding cuts and the need to reduce the number of collapsed trials, but solicitors, magistrates and victims groups are not happy about the changes.
They fear the proposals demonstrate no interest in delivering fair and just outcomes and common sense is going to be thrown to the wind to affect a budgetary fix.
Former barrister Mr Buckland is calling for a rethink of the changes.
He said: “These changes do concern me. Local justice is at its best when it is in touch with local people and the problems on the ground.
“There are problems unique to Swindon and problems unique to Chippenham.
“This merger will threaten the capacity of magistrates to deploy their local knowledge to full effect.
“I wholeheartedly support the call for the Government to rethink these changes.”
The debate was bought to the Commons by Salisbury MP John Glen, who said one of the problems with the changes will be travel, when defendants remanded into custody have to attend hearings in Swindon.
He said: “If a defence solicitor has been dealing with a client (from outside of Swindon) in interview who is then taken into custody, they will be faced with 24 hours to clear their appointments for the following day, including the possibility of three hours to travel (to Swindon).
“If that defendant is then released in Swindon on bail, they will be expected to find their own way back home, either in the form of a 92-minute train journey or a two-hour bus journey.”
To find out more about the debate, visit the website www.theyworkforyou.com.