Legal challenge launched over Chichester court closures

A mass protest staged outside Chichester Combined Court earlier this year
A mass protest staged outside Chichester Combined Court earlier this year

Legal action has been initiated over the ‘unlawful’ closure of Chichester’s courts without proper alternative provision first being found.

Lawyer Edward Cooke of Resolution West Sussex said a pre-action letter had been sent to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) ‘with a heavy heart’.

He said the MOJ’s refusal to honour repeated assurances to consider proposals for the Chichester Magistrates’ Court to be converted into a new crown and county combined court facility left it ‘with no option but to set in train a legal challenge’.

Mr Cooke said: “We hope very much that the Ministry of Justice will now engage in serious and realistic dialogue with us and other groups, to ensure that meaningful local provision of criminal and civil justice is preserved in Chichester, for the sake of the people of the Chichester district.”

The closure of Chichester’s crown court is due to take place in March 2017 and the county court in June 2017 - leaving the county without a crown court.

It follows the closure of the city’s Magistrates’ Court in August, as part of the Government selling off 86 court sites nationwide.

“Failing a satisfactory response from the Ministry of Justice within a fortnight, a formal application for judicial review will be filed,” Mr Cooke said.

Resolution’s proposed new court would deal with both existing crown and county court work.

He called the proposals put forward by the MOJ as alternative local provision to mitigate the closure of the existing combined court building next year as ‘woefully inadequate’.

It includes video link evidence from Chichester Police Station and occasional civil and family hearings from the old Havant Magistrates’ Court.

Mr Cooke added: “To leave Chichester, as the county town of West Sussex, with no courtroom facilities is wholly wrong.

“West Sussex will be left without a crown court, which will mean that witnesses, victims of crime, jurors and others - including police and other agencies - involved in crown court trials will have to travel routinely to Lewes for hearings. “At a time when the Chichester district faces a substantial increase in population, to leave it without any courtroom facilities makes no sense at all.”

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