Magistrates quit the bench as court faces closure

Wakefield Magistrates Court.

Wakefield Magistrates Court.

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Magistrates have resigned ahead of the city’s court being shut down in a controversial cost-cutting move by the government, it has emerged.

The court will close next Friday and defendants and witnesses will have further to travel for hearings after cases are transferred to Leeds from September 30.

The demise of the Wakefield court follows the closure of Pontefract magistrates court in 2013, when it was merged with the court in Wakefield.

The government claims its decision to shut down almost a fifth of courts in tribunals in England will modernise the justice system and save around £500m.

But fears have been raised that the move will restrict people’s access to open justice and make it harder to convince witnesses to give evidence.

The closure date emerged in a report to this week’s meeting of Wakefield Council.

Coun Ros Lund told Wednesday’s meeting: “The court closes on the September 30 and it is going to be a sad loss for the district.

“But what may not be as well known is that nearly half the bench have resigned.

“People sitting on the bench were people who knew the area inside out and that loss is going to be really felt when they go to Leeds.”

Fears were also raised that the listed court building would become another derelict eyesore in the city centre.

The council has already been forced to buy the former Crown Court Building, round the corner at the top of Wood Street, after it fell into disrepair.

Coun Charlie Keith said: “Lets hope it doesn’t drop into wrack and ruin, and that we have got to buy it back and tidy it up.”

Calderdale County and Magistrates’ court will also close on September 30.