Pledges over city law court closures ‘have been broken’

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has been accused of breaking pledges not to close Chichester courts before alternative local provision was found.

And anger is mounting among members of the city’s legal community after they learned they have been denied a place on the group set up by the MOJ to put new local court provision in place.

Leading protester is Edward Cooke, vice chairman of the West Sussex branch of Resolution, a nationwide organisation of family law professionals. He said the situation was ‘scandalous’ adding: “I have heard from a number of local practitioners saying their cases, including serious domestic violence, are already being transferred away from the area and judges are refusing to list things in Chichester. This is despite the fact the MOJ assured us the Crown and County Courts would not close until local alterative provision was put in place.

“They said the ‘local leadership group’ was being set up to report on what that provision would be – but before it has even got going, cases are already being transferred away.”

He added: “It’s scandalous that we, as the leaders of the local legal community, are not being allowed to attend meetings of that group. We know the area – the people on the group are not even local.”

He added: “Basically the MOJ is already de facto closing the courts without any consideration being given to the process they have set up and no regard being paid to their assurance not to close them until suitable local alternative provision has been found.”

Mr Cooke has now asked for an ‘urgent reassurance’ that no more cases will be transferred. In his letter to the MOJ he said recent moves appeared to be ‘a clear breach’ of the assurances given.

Law professionals are meeting MP Andrew Tyrie and leaders of West Sussex County and Chichester District Councils tomorrow to plan their next moves on a united front.