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Cuts to court will go ahead in ‘pilot period’

PUBLISHED: 09:22 04 October 2012

North Devon Magistrates Court, Barnstaple

North Devon Magistrates Court, Barnstaple

Archant

CUTS to North Devon Magistrates’ Court will still go ahead as part of a pilot period running until March.

No criminal cases will be listed on Wednesdays or Thursdays, resulting in the court having to sit its five-and-a-half hour target per day in just three days a week.

Tim Smith, the Justices’ Clerk for Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, confirmed no trials would be moved to Exeter.

But overnight custody remand cases would have to have the first hearing at Exeter Magistrate’s Court on days Barnstaple was out of action, which could lead to increased travel costs for probation services and defence solicitors.

Worries at an open meeting held on Thursday with around 40 people surfaced over the fact an impact assessment would not be carried out until after the pilot period had ended in March.

North Devon MP Nick Harvey said: “If all impact assessments were taken after the event the whole thing would be dragged into disrepute.

“On the whole my confidence in the whole thing now is a bit shaky.”

The move comes after HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) overspent its £75m budget for the South West last year and has been told to make a £6m reduction this year.

Mr Smith told the meeting the cuts would leave the court overstaffed and HMCTS would have to look at moving people’s contracts to Exeter or not filling vacancies.

He said: “In Barnstaple the completed proceedings in 12 months have fallen by 19 per cent in 2011-2012 from 2009-2010.

“These cuts are happening all over Devon and Cornwall and we believe the workload in Barnstaple will fit in to three days a week.”

Speaking after the meeting, North Devon Council leader Brian Greenslade said: “It was evident that many are concerned about the proposals and the impact on the local justice system, and were not reassured by the comments made by Mr Smith.”

Mr Harvey urged everyone at the meeting to keep a ‘rigorous’ record of any costs incurred from the changes made to the court.

The cuts were due to take place this week but many at the meeting were confused as to when exactly the new matrix was due to come to action, with cases still listed for today (Wed).

Mr Smith said the changes ‘would not happen overnight’ and that all interested parties would be notified when the matrix was in place.

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