Oxford

Oxfordshire magistrate warns of court closure

An Oxfordshire magistrate has warned essential local links will be lost when four of the county's courts close.

Didcot Magistrates' Court will close at the end of June. Wantage and Witney have already shut.

Bicester's court is also set to close in 2013, leaving the county served by courts in Oxford and Banbury.

Didcot magistrate James Campbell said: "We are then withdrawing from the basis of local justice and that is a big concern for magistrates."

'Short-sighted'

The government plans to shut 93 magistrates and 49 county courts across England and Wales to save £15m a year in running costs and £22m in maintaining the buildings.

Mr Campbell said: "Magistrates are perhaps one of the earliest examples of the big society in practice.

"One of the great advantages of this system is that magistrates have local knowledge which they can bring to bear on the decision-making processes. They will know, for example, which are the dangerous parts of the road, which pubs where there is trouble on Friday and Saturday nights.

"Clearly, if you are going to be in a situation where a magistrate from Chipping Norton is sitting in Oxford Magistrates' Court on a case that is in the area of Thame, then the likelihood of them having any local knowledge that they can bring to bear on that matter is extremely limited."

Ann Ducker, leader of Conservative-run South Oxfordshire District Council, said: "I feel with the population growing in Didcot, it's very short-sighted to close it now, because in a few years' time they will have to reopen it again."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said keeping under-utilised courts was not a good use of taxpayers' money and resources must be targeted to provide value for money.

The number and location of courts needed to reflect changes in population, transport and communication links, he said.

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