Last month, the Government’s newly-appointed Minister for Justice (and my constituency neighbour), Lucy Frazer MP, announced proposals to close eight courts around England, including the Magistrate’s Court in Cambridge. That would be almost 130 local court and tribunal closures since 2016 if the plans go ahead. We are five weeks into the 10-week consultation, which is asking for constituents’ views on whether they want to see their court provisions relocated to Huntingdon and Peterborough. I would encourage all residents to take part in the consultation and speak up once again for our diminishing public services.
I am opposed to these proposals. I feel justice is best served locally, and after speaking with key stakeholders, I am yet to hear a robust argument in favour of the closure.
The primary argument is that the court is currently underused, and it’s closure will bring about effective cost savings, helping to reach the £1 billion worth of cuts the MOJ is trying to implement. I have serious doubts about this, as there can be no money raised from the selling of the building as it is not owned by the Government. The only saving can be the ongoing rental.
What is needed is a proper analysis of court provision across the city. The cost of travel to alternative locations for those using the court will surely mount in the coming years. With Cambridge predicted to reach a population of 150,000 by 2050, moving vital law and order services out of the city cannot be in our best long-term, economic interests. What this looks like, is just another way to shift the financial burden from central Government to local services, which we have seen too many times has negative consequences for the local community.
There are plenty of concerns with the proposals to move the court services. Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite, has stated that the move could see fewer criminals receiving justice, and that victims and those they have accused could end up travelling on the same form of public transport.
We have to also consider those people who may not find it so easy to navigate themselves to Huntingdon or Peterborough, how will they manage with the changes? Time and time again the Conservatives see the provision of services in terms of cost and not what it provides to the local community, who are paying their taxes. So what can we do? Complete the consultation, sign the petition that the Cambridge Labour Party has set up against the closure, and join our campaign to keep our local court serving local justice.
Sign our petition to save the Magistrates' Court here.
This article was originally printed in the Cambridge Independent.