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Concern over proposed shift of court cases
1:00pm Friday 22nd March 2013 in News
A PLAN to centralise the majority of criminal trials at North West Wiltshire Magistrates’ Court is being opposed by Wiltshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson.
The proposal is among several put forward by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure cases are dealt with more efficiently.
While some trials would take place at Salisbury Magistrates’ Court, the majority are proposed to take place at the Chippenham court.
Mr Macpherson, a former magistrate who sat at courts across Wiltshire, said: “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.
“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.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner, 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.”
Other proposed changes are: to centralise the hearing of first-time custody remand cases at Swindon Magistrates’ Court (meaning they would no longer take place at Salisbury); reducing the frequency of youth courts sittings to one per fortnight in Chippenham, Salisbury and Swindon; and to list first hearing cases (charge and bail) in Swindon and Salisbury only.
Mr Macpherson consulted with victims about the proposed changes and said they raised concerns including lengthy travel times and using public transport to get to Chippenham from other parts of the county.
An HM Courts and Tribunals spokesman said: “HMCTS, in conjunction with the judiciary and criminal justice partners, routinely reviews local listing arrangements, taking into account changes in workloads to ensure the best use of our resources.
“So that cases can be dealt with more efficiently, as part of a wider consultation on the sitting programme for Wiltshire, we are consulting on centralising non-guilty plea cases at one Chippenham magistrates’ court and centralising the hearing of first-time in custody remand cases at Swindon Magistrates’ Court.
“All consultation responses will be considered before any decision is made.”