Victims waiting longer for justice as PCC criticises Magistrates Court closure

Magistrates Court building, Wakefield.
Magistrates Court building, Wakefield.

The closure of Wakefield Magistrates Court has put pressure on the criminal justice system as victims wait longer for cases to be heard, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has suggested.

The courthouse, on Cliff Parade, shut in September 2016 despite  opposition. Victims, witnesses and defendants from Wakefield have been forced to travel to Leeds for hearings and trials ever since.

Now figures show that the average waiting time for a case to be resolved at a Magistrates in the region has risen to nearly 46 days

This marks an increase of more than a week and a half from the previous year (2016/17).

Writing in a draft report that will go before the West Yorkshire PCC Panel meeting on Friday, Mark Burns-Williamson said that funding cuts were affecting the justice system.

He added that the closures of Calderdale Magistrates and County Courts, which both shut in 2016, had also had an impact.

He said: “The courts are experiencing a period of unprecedented change, with reductions in staff numbers and the implementation of new digital administration systems.

“We can expect some fluctuation in performance as a result of these changes, but ultimately, new technologies should bring new  efficiencies to the way our criminal justice system operates.

“However, court closures in Wakefield and Halifax (along with severe pressures in prisons and probation services) are impacting on the overall state of our criminal justice system.”

In 2015, Wakefield Council voted unanimously against the court’s closure with then Cabinet member Graham Stokes branding the decision “outrageous”.

Now Coun Stokes, ward member for Knottingley, says the level of service being provided since the closure is “unacceptable”.

He said: “People are having to wait longer for justice and it’s made it a lot harder for people to get to court.

“Things won’t get any better until they put more resources in.

“I think there is a case for reopening the court but I can’t see that happening at all. I think that’s very unlikely.”

The court building has remained empty in the two years since.

The Ministry of Justice have been contacted for comment.