By Hannah Postles
Originally published in the Pontefract & Castleford Express, 19th August 2010.
Worried solicitors fear vulnerable residents will be hardest hit if Pontefract’s County Court is axed in government cost-cutting plans.
Senior staff at Hartley and Worstenholme say the proposed closure of the Horsefair facility – which would see it be merged with Wakefield’s County Court at a new shared site – will have an impact on people in difficult and sensitive situations.
Christopher Sandham, partner and head of family law, told the Express: “If the county court closes it will hit the most vulnerable people who need support – people who need access to justice straight away, like victims of violence in the home.
“A lot of people who use the county court are vulnerable members of the community who may struggle to get to Leeds or Wakefield to attend hearings.
“The county court deals with a wide range of issues, from divorce to small claims disputes. It deals with applications for people to be allowed contact with their children or have their children living with them. It’s extremely busy and the staff there work incredibly hard.
“It is just as important as the magistrates’ court and will be missed if it were to close.”
Arthur Healey, a former senior partner at the firm, believes Pontefract police station – which is expected to close – should be used to create a new combined court centre in the town.
He said: “It would allow the magistrates’ court and county court to operate at the same site, with shared parking.
“Courts should serve their local communities – not the other way round.
“In the consultation documents about the proposed closure, the author has only considered the distance from the existing court in Pontefract to the proposed new centre in Wakefield and the cost of travel between the two.
“What about those who live on the extremities of the existing court jurisdiction? How often does public transport run to Wakefield from Badsworth, Ackworth, Kirk Smeaton, Womersley and Methley?
“They would have to go to Castleford or Pontefract and then onto Wakefield. What is the additional cost to the court users? How much longer will their journeys be? Can they get to court on time?
“Our predecessors provided the courts to serve the local communities – not to reduce the cost to the exchequer.”
Mr Sandham said the proposed closure would also have an impact on the Pontefract branch of the company.
He said: “Some of our lawyers may only be in court for a short period of time and if it’s an urgent case we can get the paperwork to court quickly.
“If they are having to travel to Wakefield they will be wasting time and people will have to pay for solicitors’ travel to Wakefield.”
The Express has launched a campaign to Keep Justice Local and save the town’s magistrates’ and county courts from closure.