Richmond MP Rishi Sunak and North Yorkshire’s police and crime commission are among those opposing proposals to close Northallerton Magistrates’ Court.
In his response to a consultation on the plan to shut the court and transfer its work to York, Skipton, Harrogate and Teesside, the MP says the Ministry of Justice’s plan does not take sufficient account of the rurality of the area the court currently covers.
Following a meeting with the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, Mr Sunak has written to her making a series of points:
- Defendents, victims and witnesses living in the Yorkshire Dales and parts of the North York Moors would be seriously disadvantaged by the time and distances involved in reaching the remaining courts
- The purpose-built Northallerton court has excellent facilities and is understood to be the only magistrates’ court in the county to be fully compliant with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act
- Northallerton’s annual running costs of £140,000 appear modest. What are the costs of the other court buildings, particularly York’s flood-prone Victorian premises
- IT incompatibilities may delay the transfer of cases to Teesside – a different local justice area to North Yorkshire.
In his letter, Mr Sunak further says that public confidence in the consultation process has been undermined by significant mistakes in the initial document. These included incorrect travel times for public transport links and geographical references to “Teesside in North Yorkshire”.
He added that the travel times analysis in the consultation document looked like a “paper exercise divorced from the reality of getting about in this deeply rural part of the UK”.
He said: “Using Hawes as an example, it is theoretically possible to travel to Skipton by bus and train in one hour 32 minutes but you couldn’t arrive there before late morning and magistrates’ courts start at 10am.
“Even if you used private transport, the route over the top of the Pennines is a perilous one in winter: the route has been closed by snow at least twice in the last few weeks.”
He added that the A684 road to Northallerton, a Priority One gritting route, always remained open.
Mr Sunak said that even in less isolated and large communities, like Richmond, constitituents would be disproportionately affected. Public transport travel times to Teesside, for example, were two-and-a-half hours compared to one hour for the journey to Northallerton.
Crime commissioner Julia Mulligan said she was “deeply concerned” about the proposal, and urged Ministers to consider an alternative.
She said the plan “contains fundamental misunderstandings about the impact on both the public of North Yorkshire and the organisations that deliver criminal justice in the county.”
Mrs Mulligan added: “I wrote to the minister as soon as the consultation was announced back in January, highlighting my concerns – some of which have been addressed.
“I also suggested that the consultation be put on hold to enable us to work with the Ministry of Justice to develop an alternative.”
Aysgarth and District Parish Council has also submitted objections.
Its response was prepared by parish councillor and former magistrate Robert Walker.
The authority said that the proposed closure of the Northallerton court could only have been suggested by persons who were focusing solely on the financial opportunity “with no consideration of the impact of court users, nor can they have considered the impact of the massive growth of army personnel based in Catterick”.
It added: “The last time Northallerton court was marked for closure it was the lack of a suitable alternative, particularly after the closure of Richmond court, and the level of the Catterick Garrison derived business which influenced the decision not to close.
“That argument is now significantly stronger, and with proper consideration given to rural court users the case for keeping Northallerton court open is undeniable.
“Closure of Northallerton Court would deprive the county town of a key service and fail to meet one of the key considerations of this consultation in that it takes away the access to justice for all those living in the dales.”