Court closure a blow to victims of crime

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Categoriesnews Crime

Image captionHammersmith Magistrate’s Court

Residents across Hammersmith & Fulham face being denied justice following the government’s decision to close Hammersmith Magistrate’s Court and sell the site for redevelopment.

The government’s decision will jeopardise criminal cases, and comes despite fierce opposition opposition from residents, H&F Council, the Magistrates’ Association, the Law Society and domestic violence charities.

The announcement of the closure, which followed a Ministry of Justice consultation, comes contrary to the vast majority of responses – which were in favour of it remaining open.

“This is bad news for victims of crime, those facing charges, and for justice in general,” said Cllr Michael Cartwright, H&F Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour - himself a former magistrate.

“There is evidence from other areas, where courts have been closed, of an increase in cases collapsing - because witnesses find it difficult to travel to the court where the case is listed.”

There is particular concern about the impact of the court’s closure on victims of domestic violence: who can often feel daunted by the court process, and are already more likely than most other witnesses to fail to attend a trial.

Sally Jackson, of campaigning charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, said: “We are very disappointed to lose Hammersmith Magistrates Court, as we have coordinated the Specialist Domestic Abuse Court there since 2003.

“Moving the court elsewhere will add complications to those going through the daunting experience of giving evidence; but we are determined to work with our partners to minimise the disruption, and ensure we don’t lose the expertise of the specialist court.”

Following the closure, adult cases will be heard at Westminster, City of London and Hendon Magistrates Court, while both defendants and witnesses in Youth Court cases will have to travel to Highbury Corner.

Law Society president Robert Bourns was one of those critical of the decision.

He said: “This decision is ill-considered given government has carried out a no more than cursory assessment of the impact on access to justice of the very recent closure of 86 courts across England and Wales, including 10 in London.”

An increase in 'no-shows', where key witnesses fail to turn up for a trial, has been seen in other areas where courts have been closed – resulting in victims of crime having their route to justice withdrawn.

Cllr Cartwright said: “This decision has been taken for short-term financial gain. It will deny many people their right to justice, and result in the closure of the only youth court in this part of London.

“It also goes against almost all of the evidence submitted to the consultation, and must be reconsidered.”

Image caption: Hammersmith Magistrate’s Court entrance

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