Council puts case to keep town’s magistrates’ court open

Bedford Magistrates' Court.
Bedford Magistrates' Court.

Court cases could be held at Borough Hall if central government pushes ahead with plans to shut the town’s magistrates’ court.

Bedford Borough Council is fighting to keep the historic court building open and has put the case to retain it in its response to government.

But if the closure does happen, the council has said it has space to accommodate court hearings at its Cauldwell Street base.

Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “The closure of Bedford Magistrates’s Court would mean witnesses, lawyers, defendants and everyone involved in cases would have to travel some distance to attend hearings.

“While this might save the Courts Service some money, our response to the government’s plans sets out its harmful impact in terms of extra costs for local witnesses and other members of the public involved in cases and for taxpayers via other parts of the public sector, including the council. It will also limit access to justice for local residents, and will increase the likelihood of non-attendance by defendants.

“It is absolutely essential that access to justice locally is maintained, and we hope that the government will listen to our powerful case, and to all of those who have spoken up in opposition to these harmful plans.”

The council’s submission stresses the need for local access to justice to be retained and, in the event that the government does go ahead with its plans, highlights the availability of vacant space in Borough Hall in the interest of preserving the local administration of cases.

Since June 2014, all Bedfordshire adult and youth crime, local authority civil and crime and probation cases have been listed at Luton.

Bedford’s court house, named Shire Hall, remains open, at a cost of about £1,000 per day, and hears family court cases.

The court building at St Paul’s Square was built in 1881 and is architectural and historic interest.

It has played a central part in Bedford’s justice system for more than 134 years.