Moves ‘first step in Shropshire losing its magistrates court’
Moves to cut the number of criminal cases heard at Shropshire's only magistrates court are the first steps in moving them out of the area altogether, solicitors fear.
Remand cases currently heard at Telford Magistrates Court are to be centralised in Kidderminster from April 1 - an hour-and-half by car or two hours by train from parts of North Shropshire.
The new procedure, which comes after a consultation by the courts and tribunal service last year, will be on a six-month trial basis.
Shropshire’s solicitors met in Shrewsbury last night to air their concerns over the plans, which many suspect will lead to all cases being moved to Worcestershire.
John McMillan from WLB Law said: “There used to be 16 courts in Shropshire and they’ve gradually been whittled down. The procedure we’ve noticed is that first all the back office staff are taken out, then they stop them dealing with remand cases, then the next step is to shut the court.
“At Telford we are now at stage two; they have removed back office staff and now the remand prisoners. It demotes the court so it’s then easy to say it can all go to Worcestershire.
“We believe the plan is that it will all go to Worcester eventually. We think it’s a con and don’t think it was a genuine consultation.”
Several solicitors said they had been told by court ushers that there was a “strong possibility” of all cases moving to Worcester after the six-month trial period.
Steven Meredith from WLB Law said: “Shropshire is doomed, the court is doomed. Everyone knows this is what happens.”
Moving cases out of the area will also create logistical and financial difficulties for families of defendants from Shropshire to get to the court in Kidderminster for a 10am hearing, a particular concern for youth defendants and those who have physical or mental health difficulties.
Defendants who arrive in a prison van but are then bailed by the court would also have to find their way home, potentially with no money.
Danny Smith from PCB, chairing the meeting, said the proposals failed to uphold the constitutional principle of being tried by your peers.
He said: “Unless we get Shropshire magistrates sitting in Kidderminster we are going to lose that local knowledge. Shropshire magistrates understand Shropshire and without that you’re going to get injustices because you’re not being tried by your peers.”
The group decided to draft a letter to the court service to strongly object to the proposals.
Mr McMillan added: “The court services is trying to do is save a little bit of money but pass the cost onto everyone else. The police, defence solicitors and public will all pick up the tab and we will get a worse service than if it remains in Telford. If it’s not broke don’t fix it.”