Vigil to mark closure of Chichester magistrates courts

Vigil to mark the closure of Chichester's Magistrates Court, Friday September 30.
Vigil to mark the closure of Chichester's Magistrates Court, Friday September 30.

Candles and flowers are to be seen outside Chichester’s Magistrates Court today, in a gesture to mark the court’s closure.

The all-day vigil is open to members of the public until 9pm tonight, as the Magistrates Court completes its final day of active use.

Stephanie Carn was one of those gathered in black to mark the passing of the court.

“I think it’s a loss of justice locally, if people can’t have all their problems dealt with,” she said.

“It’s jury members and other people who have to use the legal service, such as the housing tribunals, and we should be providing that. It’s the loss of a public service.”

A public meeting last week discussed concerns for the future of justice in the city, with the crown and county (combined) court due to close in Spring next year.

In the lengthy battle by residents and councillors to keep the courthouse, the Magistrates Court’s closure is a significant loss.

City councillor Sarah Sharp, who organised the vigil, said: “We just wanted to mark the day really, that it’s a sad day.

“Despite everyone in the background who have been working really hard, it doesn’t look like they are saving the court because it’s closing today.

“If you can’t come today, spend five minutes in quiet reflection on what’s happened and what’s been lost, use the time to write a letter, write another letter to Liz Truss at the Ministry of Justice.”

The closure of the crown court next year will leave West Sussex as one of only two counties nationwide without a crown court and has been opposed by numerous residents, regional legal groups and the West Sussex county, Chichester district and Chichester city councils.

It has been suggested that witnesses unable to attend a courtroom in person could provide evidence via a video link.

But concerns have been voiced that a video live feed could not recapture the atmosphere of a court room and would be expensive to set up.

Valerie Briginshaw said: “The population of Chichester is increasing, it’s going to increase, as we know. Havant’s overflowing at the moment, if it has to take Chichester as well, it won’t be able to cope, Lewes as well. There isn’t the capacity in the system.”

She added that some people would lose justice becuase they may be unable to attend a court case in time, particularly those who are reliant on public transport.

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