A stalwart of justice has branded a consultation on whether to close High Peak Magistrates’ Court as ‘misleading to the point of deceiving’.
Michael Hilton, a magistrate of 25 years, has slammed the consultation document as ‘flawed’ and has written to the Ministry of Justice to complain about the ‘severe inaccuracies’ he says are contained within it.
Mr Hilton said: “Anybody reading this document would wrongly believe the court is not fit-for-purpose, and closure would have little impact on defendants, victims and witnesses attending court.
“This is not the case, and this consultation is misleading to the point of deceiving. I have contacted the Ministry of Justice about this, but they refuse to change it.”
The Government began a consultation on proposals to shut 91 courts across England and Wales earlier this month, as part of planned reforms to courts and tribunals.
High Peak Magistrates’ Court, in Terrace Road, Buxton – which also houses the County Court – is one which could face permanent closure.
In the consultation document, the Ministry of Justice says High Peak Magistrates’ Court is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010, as it does not have a public access lift.
But Mr Hilton said lifts were installed six years ago, and that the building is fully compliant.
The document also says that consultation rooms in the court are in poor state, but Mr Hilton said they were renovated to a high standard in 2010.
It also says that, as there is only one waiting room, the court cannot achieve the desired segregation between witnesses. But Mr Hilton said that waiting areas were reorganised in 2010, and the court now has a separate entrance, and room for witnesses – meaning the desired segregation is fully in place.
If the court was to close, cases would be heard at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.
In the document it states that journey time to Chesterfield is 50 minutes by car.
In response, Mr Hilton said: “This claim is totally unfair and misleading – it completely ignores the fact that a fair proportion of our work comes from people to the north west of the county. The journey times and impossible public transport situation for those people should be detailed in the document .
“Public transport from anywhere in the Glossop region, to Chesterfield, takes nearly two-and-a-half hours and costs in the region of £40.”
A spokesperson for the HM Courts & Tribunals Service said: “We apologise that the consultation document wrongly describes disabled users as having to use the magistrates’ lift to access the courtrooms, when there is a public lift.
“However, this does not change the fact that the building does not comply with the Equality Act as the lift does not go to the public counter on the second floor. We are writing to all recipients of the consultation paper to correct this.
“On travel times, the consultation paper is clear on how we have calculated them and states they are only a guide.
“This is a consultation and we want to hear peoples’ views before making any decisions. We encourage anyone with an interest to reply to the consultation.”
The consultation closes on October 8.
For more information, see https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/proposal-on-the-provision-of-court-and-tribunal-es/user_uploads/reform-estates-national-consultation_official-sensitive_final.pdf.