Lewes court closure ‘a sad day for local justice’

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‘IT’S a sad day for local justice’. That was the comment as Lewes Magistrates’ Court closed its doors for the final time this week.

The court was one of 93 across the country earmarked for the axe in June last year.

The Ministry of Justice said the building, which employs 12 people, was not providing value for money.

It was estimated that closing Lewes would save £200,000 per year and would remove the need for £50,000 in maintenance.

Local MP Norman Baker fought hard to keep the court open and tried to convince Court Minister Jonathan Djanogly that as the county town Lewes was a ‘special case.’

He argued the bomb proof, purpose-built building, has good transport links for the wider rural community who would struggle to get to Brighton and pointed out the synergy with the crown court, police headquarters and probation service.

But despite his best efforts Lewes closed its doors for good on March 30 after Mr Djanogly said the current system was ‘unsustainable’ and government would be focusing on the ‘best courts.’

It ended centuries of local justice being delivered in the county town.

More than 20 magistrates, who originally sat on the bench at Lewes when it was first opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1988, were invited to a special ceremony marking the end of an era.

But the court was not going down without a fight – Claire Brown, chairman of Central Sussex Magistrates, was adamant it would stay open for business as usual on its last day with court hearings in the morning and afternoon.

She said: “This is of course a sad day for the magistrates and the people of Lewes.

“What we did today was to ensure that both courts remain being used - morning and afternoon. We managed to enable magistrates on the original Lewes bench to sit on both sessions too.”

Court staff shared their memories of the building, and highlighted their dismay to see it close.

Ms Brown continued: “We did try to argue for it to stay open. It is a sad day.”

Senior usher Colin Mann said: “I have been a court usher for the last 30 years and have been here since it opened and so it is a very sad day for me.

“I am retiring at the end of June, but if it had stayed open I wouldn’t have minded working on.”

All cases will now be heard at Brighton Magistrates’ Court.

As the last case of the day drew to an end, Magistrate Bob Brandley, said: “It is the end of Court One forever. It is a sad day for local justice.”