Government plans to close Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court are ‘very disappointing’, according to the town’s MP David Lidington.
The magistrates’ court, county court and family court in Walton Street are among dozens throughout the country earmarked for closure, as the Ministry of Justice looks to reduce the cost of running its estates.
If closed, Aylesbury Crown Court, which currently leases rooms at Old County Hall in Market Square, would move into the vacated magistrates’ buildings.
Mr Lidington, who is the Conservarive Minister for Europe, said: “Clearly it is very disappointing but it is not unique to Aylesbury. I would much rather them keep going but it is a relief we are keeping the crown court as there was a risk that was going to be centralised to Milton Keynes. I am pleased that has not happened.”
Mr Lidington added the closure would impact on the town centre economy, where witnesses and lawyers would go for lunch.
The government’s consultation document says the Walton Court facility employs 13 staff and costs £237,000 a year to run.
It said during the 2014/15 financial year, the courts were only utilised to approximately 14% of its capacity.
It adds: “Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court is poorly utilised and the current work can be accommodated elsewhere in the county.
“It is proposed that Aylesbury Magistrates’, County Court and Family Court is closed and the magistrates’ workload moved to High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court and Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court. The civil workload would be transferred to Milton Keynes County Court.”
The junior minister directly responsible for the plans, Shailesh Vara, is actually from the town and attended Quarrendon and Aylesbury Grammar schools.
He said: “We can only provide better access to justice if we take difficult decisions to reduce the cost of our estate and reinvest the savings.
“Attending court is rare for most people. It will still be the case that, after these changes, over 95% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.”
Mr Lidington also paid homage to the work led by Judge Franics Sheridan at Aylesbury Crown Court: “There’s been some very impressive work to deliver much greater efficency in the crown court in Aylesbury by using modern technology.”
This includes using video links to cut down on prisoners needing to be brought to court for hearings.
“That has cut the backlog at Aylesbury Crown Court so cases are processed quicker and there has been some significant cost savings. I think the crown court needs a pat on the back – I am trying to encourage Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Justice) to have a look.”
However Mr Lidington, who once famously labelled Aylesbury a ‘judicial slum’, said the current crown court building was not fit for purpose. For example, defendants and witnesses often have to sit near eachother in a single waiting room.
A spokesman for Bucks County Council, which owns the Old County Hall, said: “We note with interest the Ministry of Justice’s proposal in a public consultation released on 16 July of moving Aylesbury Crown Court from the Old County Hall on Market Square to the existing Magistrates’ and County Court premises in Walton Street.
“Buckinghamshire County Council is in the process of developing the other parts of the Old County Hall, and if the proposal to vacate the Crown Court sections of the building were to go ahead, we would at that stage be able to consider the wider options for the renovation and redevelopment of the rest of this key part of Aylesbury’s heritage to further enhance the Waterside North development currently underway.”