I read the West Sussex County Times each week and noticed that there was a section entitled ‘court round-up’ in the paper on February 21st 2014. I would like to say how delighted I was to see such a report.
I was also very pleased to see that it was accurately reported as Sussex (Northern) Magistrates’ Court sitting at Crawley. Too often we are called Crawley magistrates which we are not! I have lived in Horsham for 43 years and the bench is comprised of 125 colleagues from the entire area of Northern Sussex.
As a long standing local magistrate - still active - I was disappointed when regular court reporting came to an end some years ago now. Although it was accepted that this was almost certainly due to the constraints on budgets, I felt that it was very detrimental to the public face of justice in the area.
In the last ten years we have seen huge changes to the criminal justice system nationally which has resulted in many court closures. Our local Horsham Bench was amalgamated in 2002 to form the Sussex Northern Bench with the benches of Crawley and Mid Sussex.
Two years ago the courthouse at Haywards Heath was closed - our local courthouse in Hurst Road was only safe because it also houses the County Court - and the Northern magistrates now sit in Crawley and Horsham. All local interest crime cases are therefore heard at Crawley where resources are now concentrated in the proximity of the police station. If a defendant pleads not guilty however, and a trial is necessary, that takes place in the Horsham courthouse.
There has been a ‘dumbing down’ of accountability by the public for crime and you will no doubt appreciate that the face of local justice is difficult to maintain within the new organisation of courthouses.
Any means of heightening attention to the crime that is taking place and the penalties imposed must be helpful in keeping the residents of our town and its surroundings safe.
MARY HAMILTON JP
Sussex (Northern) Bench, Hurst Road, Horsham