Has decision been made on closing Hartlepool’s court? Sign the petition here

Hartlepool Law Courts, incorporating Hartlepool Magistrates' Court.
Hartlepool Law Courts, incorporating Hartlepool Magistrates' Court.

Some councillors fear the decision to close Hartlepool’s courts has already been made by the Government.

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on its plans to close 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales including Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court.

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons

The consultation does not close until October 8, but some members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee believe the decision has already been made.

Councillor Chris Simmons said: “I don’t for one minute believe the Ministry of Justice haven’t already made up their mind.

“Very often when government departments consult they are just giving information about what they are going to do.”

Coun Jim Lindridge agreed adding: “I think the decision has probably already been made but we have got to fight this.”

I don’t for one minute believe the Ministry of Justice haven’t already made up their mind

Councillor Chris Simmons

The proposed court closures are aimed at addressing court buildings that are not fully used with a focus on greater use of technology through video and telephone conferencing to make savings.

Hartlepool’s court building was said to have used 47 per cent of its total capacity in 2014-15.

If the court was to close, cases would be dealt with by Teesside Magistrates’ and County Court, in Middlesbrough.

The extra travelling distance and cost to defendants, victims and families is one of the reasons why objectors say it should not happen.

Coun Carl Richardson said: “It is going to cost a heck of a lot more to society and ordinary taxpayers.

“It’s a scandal what’s happening here.”
Coun Alan Clark added: “How can you put a price on justice? You just can’t do that.”

Committee chairman, and council leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, said: “We vehemently oppose the closure of the court. The savings would only amount to a couple of pence per person in Hartlepool.”

Denise Ogden, the council’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said of the court did close the council would need to act quickly to secure the best deal for the future use of the building.

The building, built in 1979, is owned by the council and leased by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service until the year 3004.

It involves the court service paying the council a service charge towards its maintenance.

The issue will be debated again by the full council on September 16.

The Facts

The chairman of bench of justices in Hartlepool has written to MP Iain Wright and Hartlepool Borough Council seeking support in the fight to keep the town’s court open.

Peter Bowes listed over a dozen reasons against the proposed closure.

Mr Bowes says having to travel to Middlesbrough will deny people access to local justice and highlights a lack of public transport to Hartlepool in afternoons.

He adds the plans would put an extra burden on victims, particularly those of domestic abuse, as well as police who will be diverted to deal with warrants and transporting prisoners.

Mr Bowes also fears for the impact on Hartlepool police office if more prisoners are dealt with in Middlesbrough.

In the letter, which has also been circulated to the media, Mr Bowes writes: “Hartlepool’s performance as a court is in many ways better than that of Teesside.

“Closure actually ends up costing HMCTS rather than saving money. The taxpayer ends up paying more.”

He added: “We believe that the proposal to close the courts is not in the public interest and is not in the interest of justice.

“Closure will result in real and significant damage to Hartlepool society and its people.”

An online petition called Keep Hartlepool’s Court Open is available for people to support now.

Its sub heading is “Say no to becoming a ghost town” and has been signed by 262 people so far.

It needs 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate in Parliament.

The petition can be found at petition.parliament.uk