COURT cases are being switched to other parts of West Yorkshire after officials admitted there is a huge backlog in our district.
Trials from the Dewsbury area have been moved from Kirklees Magistrates’ Court in Huddersfield since last September.
Staff are also considering travel time and costs for those involved – meaning even more cases moved.
The details were revealed in a reply from the Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to Coun Paul Kane (Lab, Dewsbury East).
He raised concerns after being told cases at Huddersfield are often adjourned due to lack of time.
Coun Kane claimed delays resulted from the cost-cutting axe of Batley and Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court nearly two years ago.
HMCTS confirmed to The Press on Wednesday that the building, on Grove Street in Dewsbury, is under offer from a prospective buyer.
The letter to Coun Kane, meanwhile, admits the average time to get to a trial had rocketed by a third over the 10 months to last September.
It took 103 days in December 2012 and had risen to 138 days when officials decided to act.
Some cases from Huddersfield were moved to Halifax from last September, while others here went to Wakefield.
Since then proceedings from our area have also anecdotally been switched to Halifax as Calderdale Magistrates’ Court can offer earlier trial dates.
Coun Kane branded the measures ‘laughable’ and said: “It’s done nothing for the delivery of local justice.
“Now we’ve got witnesses, victims, defendants and their families going to Wakefield and other parts of West Yorkshire.”
An extra 20 court sessions have been organised in Huddersfield this month and in February to deal with the backlog.
There will also be an extra trial court sitting there from April to October, staffed by existing workers.
Coun Kane added: “Think of the cost of all these extra sessions. No money will have been saved at all by closing our court.”
HCMTS official Suzanna Pereira told Coun Kane in her letter that Batley and Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court will not re-open.
She claimed the backlog was down to case management issues, not a rise in the number of prosecutions.
“The court closed in March 2012... as it was no longer fully utilised and therefore not cost effective,” she wrote.
“Given that there has been no significant increase in workload, there has been no requirement to re-open the court.”
Coun Kane claimed these are just ‘excuses’ and added: “It’s bureaucrats trying to justify something that’s not wholly political.
“They are ‘experts’ who were asked to find a way to save money and they did, but not without incurring other costs. The whole thing was never thought through.”
A HMCTS spokeswoman said: “The judiciary, in conjunction with HMCTS and criminal justice partners, routinely reviews local listing arrangements.
“These take into account changes in workloads and to ensure the best use of our resources. HMCTS will always seek to use capacity at neighbouring courts where necessary in order to avoid delays.”
• Ms Pereira confirmed in her letter that security firm G4S has repaid the money they double-billed taxpayers for.
In November The Press revealed the company pocketed an extra £192,346 for keeping Batley and Dewsbury Magistrates’ Court mothballed.
She wrote: “...these compensation events will be reflected in our accounting system and have the effect of reducing the average holding costs...”
It cuts the monthly bill for keeping the court shut from £22,000 to £11,200, £9,911 of which is rates.
Court sale threatens Reevell plan
THE PROPOSED sale of the court building has potentially torpedoed MP Simon Reevell’s bid to get it re-opened.
Government officials confirmed to The Press on Wednesday the Grove Street complex is under offer from an as-yet-unnamed buyer.
Mr Reevell (Con, pictured) discussed reopening the court with Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling before Christmas.
The backbencher, who is a barrister, hoped private prosecutions involving fines could be brought to the building.
Fines would have been used to fund running costs for a service run from one or two courtrooms.
Mr Reevell hoped the other courtrooms could be for juvenile cases or kept as spare capacity in case of backlogs elsewhere.
He is now going back to Mr Grayling, who was said to be in favour of the plan, over the proposed sale.
Mr Reevell said: “If a buyer has been found then that would be frustrating as I believe the court should be re-opened.”
On backlogs in Huddersfield he added: “If they’ve the capacity to hold extra sessions there it’s probably not the number of cases that’s the problem.
“It sounds like they weren’t organising the court properly and you have to ask why this action wasn’t taken from the start.
“Instead they allowed this situation to develop. It’s ridiculous that we’ve now ended up with people going to Wakefield and Halifax to get justice.”