Closure of Wakefield Magistrates Court has deterred victims from giving evidence, magistrate says
The closure of Wakefield's courts have deterred some victims of crime from giving evidence against offenders, an experienced magistrate has said.
Roger Grasby said the prospect of travelling around 20 miles to Leeds had discouraged people living in places like Hemsworth and South Elmsall from going to court.
Wakefield's Magistrates Court shut down in 2016, three years after the Ministry of Justice closed the court building in Pontefract. All cases from the district are now heard in Leeds.
In 2018, West Yorkshire's then Police and Crime Commissioner said the closures meant victims were having to wait longer for justice.
And speaking at a regional police and crime panel meeting on Friday, Mr Grasby said the closures had hampered the justice system.
Mr Grasby, who is a Wakefield resident and long-serving magistrate, said: "There is clear evidence that for some victims, particularly in the south-east of the Wakefield distict, travelling to Leeds is a major deterrent in actually bothering to go and give evidence at magistrate's court."
The backlog of criminal cases has now been made worse by the Covid pandemic.
In a bid to address it, the government has announced the opening of new "nightingale", or temporary, courts across England and Wales.
In the last year however, only one has opened in West Yorkshire - Cloth Hall Court in Leeds.
The new mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, whose office has taken over the duties of the region's Police and Crime Commissioner, said a lack of available staff made opening nightingale courts difficult.
She told the meeting: "Unfortunately, it's not just about venues.
"There has been a brilliant effort in opening courts we already have, and the speed the cases are going through at has increased.
"The problem for the nightingale courts is the staff. Where are the extra resources going to come from?
"You only have to go to Dewsbury to see that their Magistrates Court and Crown Court have closed.
"It's really frustrating because courts were the heart of these towns. So it's something we're looking at.
"It's on my radar, but the issue is recruitment."
Local Democracy Reporting Service