The two-year-long battle to save Chichester’s courts has taken a significant turn.
The government has now announced it is ‘investigating the availability of other property in Chichester’ to provide a new base for court provision in the city.
Edward Cooke, spokesman for West Sussex Resolution, who is leading the campaign to save the courts, said: “We are delighted active steps are being taken by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to identify a suitable location in Chichester for a court.
“We are aware that HMCTS is looking at a number of possible sites in Chichester.”
Mr Cooke said HMCTS has confirmed it is still actively considering both Resolution’s original proposal for a new Chichester Combined Court hearing centre at the old Chichester Magistrates’ Court building, which closed last year, and a recent proposal made by Resolution for a new Chichester Justice Centre on a different site in the city.
If the now empty Magistrates’ court is converted it would likely include a crown court facility, a major victory after the city’s crown court was emptied and stopped hearing cases last year having also been earmarked for permanent closure.
The Chichester Combined Court was due to close in March 2017.
However, thanks to the efforts of Resolution campaigners which saw a U-turn by the government last December, it remains very much open and dealing with many cases each week, with future cases listed.
Mr Cooke said “The fact that the Chichester Combined Court remains open and busy dealing with cases clearly demonstrates how important it is for the people of Chichester that a court is retained.
“We warmly welcome the fact that the HMCTS now recognises this, and we look forward to working with it to find a new home for a court building in the city.”
HMCTS has always made clear that the existing Chichester Combined Court building will not close until suitable alternative provision is established.
Accordingly, until HCMTS has found a suitable site for ongoing court provision, Mr Cooke said the existing Chichester Combined Court will remain open.
The Local Leadership Group (LLG) established by HMCTS to make recommendations on future court provision has now stated that some form of court provision is required in Chichester.
Mr Cooke said: “This is a major development in view of the LLG’s previous recommendation last summer that there would be no ongoing court provision in the city.”
Mr Cooke said: “Our preference remains for a new Chichester Combined Court on the Magistrates’ site given the fact that otherwise, West Sussex will be left without a crown court building, as opposed to East Sussex, which has ten crown courtrooms.
“HCMTS has failed to provide any evidence that the closure of the Chichester Crown Court will not impact on other courts such as Lewes in terms of further delays to an already creaking system.
“Forcing people to travel to Lewes will also breach the government’s promise that the vast majority of court users should not have to travel more than an hour to get to court.”
Mr Cooke said Chichester District Council had made clear that it wishes to develop the existing court site for the Southern Gateway redevelopment.
“As such, whilst we firmly believe that the best option for Chichester would be the retention of crown court provision in the city as well as county court (civil and family) provision, we formulated a proposal for a Chichester Justice Centre, to deal with county court work, as a possible alternative.”
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