SENIOR councillors concerned about the impact of closing Hartlepool’s youth court are to write to the Government to air their concerns.
The court, which is based at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court in York Road, will cease functioning in April with the service transferred 15-miles to Teesside Magistrates’ Court in Victoria Square, Middlesbrough.
But the decision has been slammed by councillors sitting on Hartlepool Borough Council’s audit and governance committee.
As previously reported, the decision means that all under 18s who are charged with crimes in Hartlepool will have to make their way through to Middlesbrough along with a parent or carer who must accompany youths at court hearings.
Adjournments and delays to hearings will also mean that several trips to Middlesbrough will potentially be needed, all adding to the cost and inconvenience of the extra travel for those involved, witnesses and police officers.
Independent councillor Keith Fisher, chairman of the audit and governance committee, said: “The closure of the Youth Court not only impacts on those innocent until proven guilty and of course the innocent victims, it also means more travelling and more services going out of town.
“It is a step in the wrong direction.”
Labour councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher added: “I am really anxious about the courts closing and the impact on the services.
“I think at the very least we should be writing a letter to the justice minister or the relevant minister to say we disagree with the decision.”
The concerns around the closure of the youth court came up during a discussion about cutting re-offending rates in Hartlepool.
Mark Smith, head of integrated youth support services at the council, said the number of young people new to the youth justice system had dropped from more than 200 in 2008-09 to 64 in 2012-13.
Mr Smith added that for “low gravity” offences youngsters are steered towards the youth service rather than the court system and he said that approach has reaped rewards with a 78 per cent success rate of youngsters not going on to re-offend.
It has proved such a success that other police districts within Cleveland Police have followed Hartlepool’s lead in a bid to help cut youth crime.
Coun Fisher raised concerns that it gave youngsters the option of not going to court to answer for their crime.
But Chief Inspector Lynn Beeston added: “The figure of 78 per cent of young people are not going to court but they are also not re-offending.”
A spokeswoman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) confirmed the closure of the Youth Court this week, adding: “HMCTS, in conjunction with the judiciary, routinely reviews listing arrangements, taking into account changes in workload, in order to make the best use of resources and facilities for users and taxpayers alike.
“From April work from the youth court at Hartlepool will move to Teesside Magistrates’ Court due to a reduction in youth court business. The new listing arrangements will be kept under review.”