Public asked to help save Hartlepool courts after Government proposes their closure

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

A rallying call has gone out for people to take part in a Government consultation on plans that could see Hartlepool Magistrates’ and County Court closed.

Hartlepool Borough Council and Peter Bowes, chairman of the bench of justices in Hartlepool, have stated their concern at the plans issued by the Ministry of Justice to mothball the Victoria Road court.

The local bench does not support the proposed closure and is intending to participate fully with the consultation process with the hope that Hartlepool is able to retain this vital and pivotal aspect of our town’s services.

Peter Bowes, chairman of the magistrates

Mr Bowes described Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court as “vital and pivotal” to the people of the town, and publicly disagreed with the proposal.

Hartlepool Borough Council chief executive Gill Alexander – on behalf of leader of the council Christopher Akers-Belcher – urged people to take part in the consultation issued by the Government’s Ministry of Justice, as local authority chiefs are “concerned” about the plans.

Council leaders say they will be providing a considered response to the closure plans, and a report, which will be presented to the council’s Finance and Policy Committee in August, and the Safer Hartlepool Partnership at the beginning of September.

Mr Bowes, head of the justices, described the suggestion to close as a “disappointment”.

He said: “It is with some disappointment that I find myself having to write this open letter to those interested parties who may be affected by the proposed closure of our local magistrates and county court, and the transfer of disability tribunal and appeal services, to Middlesbrough.

“Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court is one of two magistrates’ courts and one of two county courts operating in Cleveland, the other magistrates’ court being Teesside Magistrates’ Court, and the other county court being Middlesbrough County Court, which is part of Teesside Combined Court.

“It is proposed that Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court closes and that its work is transferred to Teesside Magistrates’ Court and Middlesbrough County Court.

“The local bench does not support the proposed closure and is intending to participate fully with the consultation process with the hope that Hartlepool is able to retain this vital and pivotal aspect of our town’s services.”

Mrs Alexander said: “Hartlepool Council, however remain very concerned that the proposals will not have the effect of improving quicker and fairer access to justice, but will on the contrary result in many Hartlepool residents facing barriers to accessing justice.

“The Ministry of Justice is consulting on the proposed changes until 8 October and on behalf of the residents of the town, the council intends to provide a considered response to the proposed closure, with a report outlining the council’s response being presented to the councils Finance and Policy Committee in August, and the Safer Hartlepool Partnership at the beginning of September.”

The proposed closures are part of a broader package of measures aimed at modernising the justice system with the Ministry of Justice stating that many of the current courts and tribunal buildings are being underused and of poor quality.

In addition, advances in the use of digital technology to assist with the administration of justice, and the ability to extend the use of video, telephone and on-line conferencing are said to provide further opportunities for quicker and fairer access to justice, and where attendance at a hearing is necessary it is also suggested that other public buildings could be used as an alternative where security requirements are low.

Hartlepool’s court is joined by facilities in Consett and Morpeth which are also facing closure as part of the consultation.

Further background to the proposal can be accessed at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/proposal-on-the-provision-of-court-and-tribunal-es.