Concern over proposals to increase Chippenham magistrates' cases (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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Concern over proposals to increase Chippenham magistrates' cases
4:33pm Tuesday 12th March 2013 in News
Proposals to centralise the majority of criminal trials at one court in Wiltshire could have a negative impact on victims and witnesses, says Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson.
Mr Macpherson has raised concerns aobut a consultation being run by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service on sitting patterns in the county.
This includes a proposal that the majority of criminal trials take place at North West Wiltshire Magistrates’ Court in Chippenham, with some continuing in Salisbury.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is holding the consultation with stakeholders looking into how to ensure cases are dealt with more efficiently.
On the proposal to centralise the majority of criminal trials in Chippenham it says this will be more effective and give the ability to list a trial on three consecutive days in one venue.
But Mr Macpherson said: “In regard to the proposal to centralise the majority of Wiltshire criminal trials in Chippenham I am very concerned about the impact this may have on victims and witnesses.
“Most victims and witnesses find appearing in court very stressful and long journey times will only add to that stress, as well as increase the possibility of non-attendance at trials. Trips from places like Mere or Alderbury could take more than two hours.
"We are told that trials may take place more locally where there are exceptional circumstances. I would want to be reassured that such travel difficulties for victims and witnesses will always be considered a good reason to try a case in the local court.”
Mr Macpherson added: “In addition, Witness Support often accompany witnesses to court in advance of the trial date for ‘familiarisation’ visits. With increased distances these will be less practical.
“One of my priorities is putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. These proposals don’t do that and so I have raised my concerns in a formal response to the consultation.”
Before submitting his views, Mr Macpherson consulted with victims of domestic violence and abuse, who raised their own concerns about lengthy travel times and using public transport to get to Chippenham from other parts of the county.
The consultation, which runs until Friday, also includes:
• Centralising the hearing of first-time in custody remand cases at Swindon Magistrates’ Court. If this happens it will mean these hearings will no longer take place in Salisbury
• Reducing the frequency of youth court sittings to one per fortnight in each local area – Chippenham, Salisbury and Swindon.
Mr Macpherson welcomed some of the proposals in the consultation paper, including increasing the overall number of scheduled magistrates family courts sitting from July.