Town council joins fight for court

Councillors vote to oppose the proposed cuts at magistrates’ court as HMCTS agree to meet interested parties.

BIDEFORD Town Council suspended standing orders during its meeting on Thursday to move an ‘emergency motion’ to oppose cuts at North Devon Magistrates’ Court.

Cllr David Brenton proposed the council object to the reduction of services at the court, claiming the matter could not wait until the next meeting.

“We need to oppose this move; it is to the detriment of the people of Bideford,” said Cllr Brenton.

“When they closed Bideford magistrates’ court we were reassured Barnstaple was the limit.

“What’s next? Are we going to have to step back into medieval times?”

The council voted unanimously to write to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Services (HMCTS) opposing the merging of the Barnstaple court with Exeter.

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On Friday, the leaders of both Torridge District Council and North Devon Council and several defence solicitors met with Tim Smith and Mandy Squire of HMCTS to discuss the cuts.

At an open meeting afterwards, Cllr Brian Greenslade confirmed the consultation on the matter was still in place, and no decision had yet been made.

But magistrate Joan Broad, who resigned over the proposed changes, said: “They have been telling us there are no plans to close the courts for four years.

“But we are being stabbed in the back left, right and centre.”

The cuts would see sittings in Barnstaple slashed by almost half, and many defendants, victims and witnesses having to make their way to Exeter for hearings.

Mr Smith has agreed to hold an open meeting in Barnstaple for all interested parties to attend but the date is still to be confirmed.

A HMCTS spokesman said: “HMCTS, in conjunction with the judiciary, routinely reviews local listing arrangements, taking into account changes in workload, in order to make the best use of resources and facilities for users and taxpayers alike.

“Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court no longer has sufficient work to justify sitting every day of the week but there are no current plans to close the court.”

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