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Non-appearances at courts rise in areas of magistrates’ closures, report finds

PUBLISHED: 10:11 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:11 17 July 2018

The former magistrates' court building in Bury St Edmunds is up for sale. Picture: CHRIS SHIMWELL

The former magistrates' court building in Bury St Edmunds is up for sale. Picture: CHRIS SHIMWELL

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Non-appearances have risen sharply in certain areas since a number of magistrates’ buildings in Suffolk were closed, a report has found.

The former Lowestoft Magistrates' Court. 

Picture: James BassThe former Lowestoft Magistrates' Court. Picture: James Bass

Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds magistrates’ courts were closed in 2016, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) saying modern technology meant there was less of a need for physical court buildings.

It also said the closure would help the government to save money.

But the move left Suffolk with just one magistrates’ court in Ipswich, meaning people have other parts of the county have had to travel many miles to attend hearings as witnesses or defendants.

The report by the Suffolk Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Suffolk, funded by the Suffolk Public Sector Leaders’ group, said: “Some believe that the HMCTS may have underestimated the difficulties that the court closures are having on court users, particularly those that live further away from Ipswich.”

Its research has found that for defendants based in Bury St Edmunds, there were warrants issued for the arrest of just 2.7% of defendants - but post closure in the same area, it is 12.8%.

It said there were “far greater generalised time costs for court users residing further away from Ipswich” and that: “The key message here is that this alternative provision plan needs to take into consideration the diverse needs of court users in Suffolk, as there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.”

It added that the closures “have led to a loss of informal ‘human’ relationships between the court and the defence advocates working on behalf of their clients” and that: “The court closures are weakening access to “local justice knowledge” due to the Magistrates not being able to sit in their local courts.

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