It is both laughable and infuriating that the government continues to categorically insist that Chichester’s Crown Court remains open.
When asked again this week, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Observer: “Chichester Combined Court is not closed. The court is still able to hear cases and will only close once alternative provision arrangements have been established.”
We responded that one of our reporters had, on several occasions, popped over the road from the Chichester office to visit the ‘open court’, and had found the front door locked.
We also pointed out that no crown court cases had been heard in the building since March 17, and none are listed in future. We also pointed out that, from speaking to the remaining staff there, who we have got to know over the years covering cases, the building is being stripped, cleaners are coming in, and no judges or barristers are now assigned to Chichester, as they always have been.
We asked the Ministry of Justice to explain how a locked building is classified as open, what cases were listed there in future, and what alternative local provision had been arranged?
The ‘guidance’ note that we got in reply was that the combined court is open and available for listings and that when the crown court is not sitting it is ‘locked to keep it secure’. Do they really expect us to swallow this gleefully and accept the way in which local residents have been treated since the government announced that Chichester’s three courts would close last year? It is especially infuriating because our dedicated local lawyers have been assured that the crown court would not close until their excellent proposal to convert the now empty magistrates’ court into a new combined court had been considered.
Is this just lip service as well? Sadly, we expect it is.
(It should be noted that the county court remains open for the time being.)
Meanwhile Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie has called for the MoJ to provide a full explaination to the court closure, or non court closure, as it is continually claimed.
It comes as a Freedom of Information request revealed that the government’s HMCT Property Board planned to keep Chichester’s crown court open, before a sudden U-turn.
If the facility in Chichester has indeed gone, it leaves West Sussex as one of only two counties across the whole country without a crown court - a scandal in itself.
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