Closure of Hartlepool Magistrates' Court ends six centuries of legal heritage

Six centuries of justice in Hartlepool came to an end as the town's magistrates' court closed its doors for the last time.

Friday, 20th January 2017, 5:00 am
Updated Friday, 20th January 2017, 9:37 am
Final day of Hartlepool Law Court

Since the times of Elizabeth I, there has been some form of a justice system in the town, but from Monday all cases involving crimes and people from Hartlepool will be heard in Middlesbrough.

It was a sad day for those involved with Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and long serving solicitor, John Ellwood, said he believes the decision to close it will be one much regretted in years to come.

He added that: “Whoever made that decision should be ashamed of themselves.”

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Everyone involved with the court gathered for a small ceremony yesterday to say their goodbyes to the place and mark the end of an era.

The Government announced last year that the Victoria Road court was among several in the North East to be axed as part of a plan to shed around a quarter of magistrates’ courts in a bid to save money.

Hartlepool and Teesside Magistrates’ Court will be amalgamated to create Cleveland Magistates’ Court which will be operated at the current Middlesbrough court building.

Martin Slimings, chairman of the bench at Hartlepool, said everyone involved with the court, as well as the town’s MP, Iain Wright and the council, fought against the closure, but were sadly unsuccessful.

Mr Slimings said it was an emotional day and paid tribute to the all the hard work which has been done by everyone involved with the court over the years.

During the ceremony he also presented two magistrates, Keith Kitching and Pat Hutchinson, with their 20 years service awards and thanked Doreen Good, who is retiring after 37 years.

The bench chairman said: “At this court we have been the first to deal with murderers and rapists, but also to deal with joyous events such as confirmation of adoptions.

“People involved with the courts have all worked together to provide efficient and effective local justice and should all be very proud of that. It is a huge honour for every one of us to work in the justice system. For me it is a huge honour to be a magistrate and a great responsibility.”

Mr Ellwood said: “The decision to close Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court was wrong. Whoever made that decision should be ashamed of themselves.

“It is as daft as closing the hospital, it’s as daft as closing the pits and forever will be a regretable decision.”

A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunal Service told the Mail that closing underused and dilapidated court buildings nationwide will allow reinvestment in the justice system.

Looking back at rich legal heritage.

There is historical evidence of official justice being carried out for around 600 years in Hartlepool.

This included a Court Leet - which would meet occasionally to deal with issues - being set up in 1567.

Around 1602 the town also had a Court of Pie Powder, a special court that sat in times of public markets or fairs to deal with trading disputes.

In 1893 the first magistrates’ court was opened in Hartlepool, the first one was in The Athenaeum in Church Street.

Since then the court has been housed in a number of venues, including The Druids Hall in Tower Street, a former library in Church Square, the Borough Hall and The People’s Centre in Raby Road.

The current Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court building was opened in Victoria Road in 1976.

Now the future of the building is unknown as it is set to remain unused.

From Monday all defendants, witnesses, family members, solicitors and police will all have to travel 12 miles to Teesside Magistrates’ Court in Middlesbrough.

A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunal Service, said: “We have a world-leading legal system and are investing over £1 billion to reform and digitise our courts to deliver swifter justice.

“Closing underused and dilapidated court buildings will allow us to reinvest in the justice system and make the best use of technology.

“This will improve access to justice and improve the experience for all court users, in particular vulnerable victims and witnesses.”