As you will no doubt be aware, the Government has now announced its intention to close all three Courts at Chichester. This is due to commence in October 2016. This is extremely concerning to us all. As you may have seen in the Law Society Gazette we have been very vocal in our objections to the closure and have been working closely with other interested parties such as Resolution and Pallant Chambers to try and persuade Government that this is not the right approach. You will have seen Sara Fildes in the Observer and on the news publicising our position as a Society on your behalf and I am very grateful to her for doing so.
As I appreciate that you may not have had chance to read the announcement and Regional Response from the Government in full I would summarise the decision as follows:
1. The County and Family Court will close at some point between January and March 2017 and the workload will be moving primarily to Worthing County Court and Family Court, but cases may also be listed in other county and family courts in Horsham and Brighton.
2. From October – December this year the Magistrates Court will close and the workload transferred to Worthing and Horsham Magistrates’ Courts.
3. The Regional Response document indicates that the Crown Court will close and the work from that Court will be moved to Lewes and Portsmouth, but then goes on to say that it is being retained and will be used to allow video links for cases in the County Court. We shall wait and see what develops here.
As the announcement has now been made that there will be closures the Society is lobbying local Councillors and MPs on your behalf to try and get the Government to review its position. We are continuing to work closely with other organisations to raise public awareness of the issue before the decision becomes irreversible. We are also taking advice on the option to look at a judicial review of the decision.
We do need your help to support this campaign and the help we need from you as members is :
Firstly, we are having a gathering at the Court on Saturday 12 March at 12 noon where we are hoping to gather a significant number of people showing their support to keep the Court open. We have already contacted Spirit FM and the Chichester Observer who are both keen to cover this event. Please can you be there! We need to have access via media to explain the significance of the decision and why they should be concerned about it!
Secondly, please encourage your clients to write to their local MP explaining the impact that travelling to another Court would have on their own access to justice in this area. Whilst I appreciate that this may seem onerous on clients it is likely that the more personalised responses that the Government receives the more notice they will take. As you will have seen in the Gazette this week the Government claim only a small number of complaints have been received since the announcement!
We will be running a social media campaign on this so please share tweets and statuses on LinkedIn to spread the word as far as is possible!
If anyone has any thoughts or views that they would like to be put forward in our response, please do let me know.
Many thanks for your help with this and I look forward to seeing you on 12 March!
President of the Chichester and District Law Society