People of all ages turned out on Saturday to protest the closure of Chichester’s courts.
The combined (crown and county) and magistrates’ courts are all set to go, but the decision has caused an angry backlash and lawyers joined a variety of councillors and members of the public as many turned out to oppose it.
West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith addressed the crowd who had gathered outside the steps of the city’s crown court.
Afterwards she said: “It would be a great shame to lose the crown court from West Sussex, it’s an important part of the county town.
“It would be a great loss, most importantly to the residents that we all represent.
“There are members of all parties here today and we know people will be affected by longer waiting times, and also it’s quite traumatic going to court giving evidence or as a witness, and this is going to ask people to travel one or two hours as well, so we’d really like to keep it here.”
Protesters waved ‘Save Our Courts’ banners and joined hands around the historic building in a show of solidarity against the Government decision, which will see 86 courts close around the country.
Green city councillor Sarah Sharp helped organise the protest, and urged everyone to write letters in support of the courts to Shailesh Vara MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice, or Paul Harris, delivery director for HM Courts and Tribunals Service South.
Cllr Sharp said: “I’m trying to get the message across that everybody might need the courts one day.
“Doing a march like we did to save St Richard’s (Hospital) was easy because everybody understands they might be ill.
“But equally my message is you might need the courts. You never know when you might witness a crime, or become the victim of a crime.”
The Chichester and District Law Society has joined forces with the law society in Worthing, where many of the cases will be transferred.
“It’s a great turnout, lots of lawyers and solicitors here, but also lots of members of the public here as well of every age group, coming out to support this campaign to allow access to justice to stay local for local people,” said Sara-Jayne Fildes from the Chichester and District Law Society.
“It’s so important to keep it here in Chichester, firstly because if it is taken it will not be coming back.”
She added that during the six-month consultation, no work had been done to see how other neighbouring courts would be affected by closing Chichester’s courts.
Edward Cooke, vice chairman of resolution West Sussex added: “If this goes through we’ll be the only county in the whole country, with the exception of Northumberland, which has a fraction of the population of West Sussex, without a crown court.
“It’s going to be the vulnerable, the victims of crimes, who are going to really struggle.
“There may be trials that can’t go ahead because people can’t get to court, and that’s a very serious situation.”
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