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Judicial review court to be mothballed next week

26 May 2011

Hearings at Sittingbourne Magistrates’ Court, the court at the centre of the legal battle against the government’s radical closure programme, will end tomorrow.

A judicial review hearing against the closure of Sittingbourne, the first of its kind, took place at the High Court yesterday.

North Kent firm Robin Murray & Co brought the challenge, which was part funded by Chancery Lane and the Kent Law Society.

A further judicial review, against the closure of Barry Magistrates’ Court in Wales, will be heard next month, along with an oral hearing challenging the closure of the court in Cardigan. Cardigan Magistrates’ Court has already been mothballed.

Lord Justice Elias, Mr Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Hickinbottom, who heard the Sittingbourne case, will also hear the Welsh reviews and deliver their judgments at the same time later next month.

A spokesman for the MoJ said none of the courts would actually close until the rulings are delivered. Cardigan is scheduled to shut on 30 June, followed by Sittingbourne on 29 July and Barry in December.

Chris Atkinson, managing partner of Robin Murray & Co, said the closure of Sittingbourne would mean that there would no longer be a magistrates, family proceedings or youth court in the borough of Swale, which covers 130,000 people and the whole of the island of Sheppey.

Atkinson said most of the work would be transferred to Maidstone, around 20 miles from Sheppey, but some would go to Sevenoaks, which is 40 miles away and takes three hours to reach by public transport.

“There is no good reason to close Sittingbourne,” Atkinson said. “It’s a busy court with a utilisation rate of 82 per cent. There are three courts, open every day.

“Swale is the ninth most deprived borough in the South East. This closure will inevitably lead to greater costs for the whole criminal justice system.”

Atkinson predicted that more arrest warrants would be issued for those failing to attend court and the police would have to spend “more of their very precious resources” chasing them up.

“More people will end up going to jail at a time when the Ministry of Justice is trying to cut the prison population,” he added.

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