Government insists Chichester Crown Court ‘remains open’

A vigil was held to mark the closure of the magistrates' court last September
A vigil was held to mark the closure of the magistrates' court last September

The Government insists Chichester’s Crown Court remains open - despite no hearings being listed and the remaining staff today stripping the building out.

In response to the Chichester Observer reporting that the court had shut at the end of last week, an HM Courts and Tribunal Service spokesperson said: “Chichester Combined Court is not closing on Friday.

“The court is still able to hear cases and will only close once alternative provision arrangements have been established.”

However the Observer has been told that most of the court staff have already been relocated elsewhere or left.

Neither of the two courts are in use and staff were seen carrying out computers and files from the building.

The last case was heard in Chichester last Thursday and there are no further listings, with Chichester Crown Court also removed from CourtServe - the daily court listings website.

Chichester’s is the only crown court across the whole of West Sussex.

The news comes after a Chichester lawyer who has led the fight to save the courts was given an ‘assurance the crown court would remain open’.

Family lawyer Edward Cooke said he had been ‘categorically assured by HMCTS that the court remains capable of dealing with crown court hearings’.

Only this month Mr Cooke, of Resolution West Sussex, attended a meeting with HMCTS to put forward the proposal to turn the empty Chichester Magistrates’ court into a new crown and county court.

“We have cases listed as far ahead as September, so the county court remains very much open,” Mr Cooke said.

“We hope HMCTS will make a positive decision on our proposal soon and it will agree with us that it is vitally important that court provision is retained in Chichester for the sake of people throughout the Chichester district.”

Roger Hunter, a volunteer for the Citizens Advice Witness Service at Chichester for the last five years, said: “I’m very sad the court is closing, it’s the end of an era really.

“All the staff, from security to the ushers deserve an enormous amount of credit for their years of hard work.”

In February 2016 the government announced that Chichester’s Combined Court (crown and county) and magistrates’ court would shut, along with 86 others.

In September the magistrates’ court shut but following the threat of a judicial review, the government announced it would review the decision over the combined court.

The HM Courts and Tribunal Service spokesperson added: “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.”

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