Disappointment as axe falls on Buxton’s court

High Peak Magistrates Court, Buxton.
High Peak Magistrates Court, Buxton.

Buxton Magistrates’ and County Court is to close as the government looks to reform the legal system.

Today’s announcement, following a public consultation, will see cases moved to courts in Chesterfield or Stockport - the latter of which has been saved from closure - or dealt with online.

Conservative High Peak MP Andrew Bingham, who campaigned to keep the court open and debated the matter in the House of Commons, said: “This is very disappointing news.

“It is regrettable that this is the outcome.”

The current utilisation rate at Buxton Magistrates’ and County Court is 27 per cent with an annual cost of £90,000, the consultation found.

A statement by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: “We appreciate the closure of Buxton Magistrates’ and County Court could impact on those court users that reside in the more remote areas.

“While it is true that there may be some difficult public transport journeys from those areas to Chesterfield, this is not a reason on its own for the retention of the court at Buxton.”

As part of the public consultation, 77 people made their opinions know; three were in support of the proposals, 71 were against the closure and three were neutral responses.
The government has said the Buxton court will close between now and June 2016, with changes to the original proposals in the consultation which stated all cases would be heard in Chesterfield.

A video link facility will remain in the town and can be used by victims and witnesses to prevent them having to attend court.

In a statement issued by Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, Shailesh Vara, said: “Court closures are difficult decisions; local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns.

“But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.”

It was reported that nationally many of the current 460 court buildings are underused: last year 48 per cent of all courts and tribunals were empty for at least half their available hearing time.

These buildings are deemed by the government to be expensive to maintain yet unsuitable for modern technology.

Mr Vara said: “We are investing over £700m over the next four years to update the court and tribunal estate, installing modern IT systems and making the justice system more efficient and effective for modern users by using modern technology including online plea, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing, reducing the need for people to travel to court.”

However, there are those who feel that closing the courts will deepen inequalities in the justice system.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “We are disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with the closure of so many courts.

“The majority of these closures will make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families.”