Future of Chichester court ‘hangs very much in the balance’

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The ongoing plight of Chichester’s court provision was raised by a solicitor during his acceptance speech as he collected a civic award for ‘outstanding contribution’ at the Chichester City Council Awards Ceremony on Thursday.

Edward Cooke, a member of family law professionals West Sussex Resolution, highlighted that the county court is still ‘very much open’ now, a year past the date it was scheduled to close – March 2017 – and three years after the court closure was proposed in July 2015.

Solicitor Edward Cooke was among those recognised for their 'outstanding contribution' to the city

Solicitor Edward Cooke was among those recognised for their 'outstanding contribution' to the city

“It is busy and cases are listed for many months hence – well into the summer. The list of cases is often as many as 40 in a single day, often more in fact than Worthing or Horsham,” he told the audience last Wednesday, refering to the fortnightly housing list at Chichester, supported by Shelter and Pallant Chambers.

Deeming this an example of the ‘vital work’ still going on, Mr Cooke said: “Without a local court, these people, who are the most vulnerable in our society – often with little if any money and no access to a car – will be the ones to suffer.”

He added that one of the options being considered, which is for provision in Havant, would be ‘a betrayal of the needs of Chichester district’.

The other idea on the table is to use the district council building in East Pallant.

“As things stand, the future of the local court provision in Chichester hangs very much in the balance,” he stated.

Mr Cooke said, speaking after the awards ceremony, that he was ‘hopeful’ more news would come shortly, with a key meeting planned in London on the topic this week. “The government have confirmed from the start that they will not close the Chichester County Court without putting in place suitable alternative local provision. We are assured that this remains the case and we await the Ministry of Justice’s decision on what this provision should be.”

The magistrates’ court did close last March and no cases have been listed at the crown court in the last year.