'Save our court' plea gets backing - SIGN ONLINE PETITION HERE

FURTHER voices have been added to the campaign to save Harborough Magistrates' Court.

The Harborough Mail helped launch a campaign and petition last month after news that Harborough's court, in Doddridge Road, was one of 103 across the UK facing the axe due to Government cost-cutting measures.

The loss of the court would mean cases being transferred to Leicester, or further afield, and campaigners say this will erode the ancient principle of local justice "being seen to be done" in the community. It would also incur travel costs and pile on inconvenience for magistrates, defendants, police, court reporters, witnesses and Probation Service.

Sign the petition online by following this link.

Or you can do so at the Mail's office at 9 Northampton Road, Harborough.

Or write, before September 15, to Miss Olwen Kershaw, HMCS East Midlands, Nottingham Magistrates' Court, Carrington Street, Nottingham NG2 1EE.

Wartnabys Solicitors, based in High Street, Harborough, wrote to the Mail to add its backing to the campaign.

Romilly Ilersic, a partner at the law firm, said: "We wish to add our support to the growing objections and protest concerning the proposed closure of the court. The actual building has been the subject of considerable expenditure over recent years and is well-suited to serve the community which continues to expand. In addition, the local magistrates are known to the community and familiar with local conditions and problems.

"The importance of justice being seen and administered locally is paramount. The inevitable inconvenience, cost and disruption to court-users having to travel to Leicester if this ill-conceived proposal goes ahead will cause a degree of hardship to some people."

Others adding support include long-serving staff who work at the court.

Court security guard Ros Petford said: "I have been working here for ten years and I think it will be a shame. I will be very sorry to see it go, you can't say much more can you.

"It will affect some people – witnesses and people like that who don't want to travel to Leicester."

Pam Webster, who runs the court's tuck shop, added: "I have been here for about eight years and I will be sorry to see it close."

l More than 120 people have signed the paper version of the petition and 110 have signed the Mail's online version at www.harboroughmail.co.uk.

A vigurous campaign to safeguard the principles of local justice is being launched today.

Concerned magistrates, the Harborough Mail, solicitors and politicians from all sides of the spectrum are joining forces to attempt to save Harborough's Magistrates' Court from the axe.

First story - July 1

The coalition Government announced last week that Harborough's court, in Doddridge Road, was one of 103 across the UK threatened with closure as part of cost-cutting measures.

The proposal has provoked an angry backlash in the Harborough community and campaigners are now vowing to fight the plan robustly.

The town has had a court since 1848.

If it is shut, it would mean all cases being dealt with in Leicester or further afield.

Worried campaigners say this would not only incur travel costs and pile on inconvenience for magistrates, defendants, police, court reporters, witnesses and the Probation Service but would also erode the historic principle of "justice being seen to be done" locally.

Magistrate Martin Russell, chairman of the Harborough bench, said: "I joined this bench some 20 years ago to serve the community and I believe passionately in local justice for local people.

"The proposal to close the Harborough courthouse will affect the whole community."

He added: "While sitting on our bench, there have been many occasions when local knowledge has been useful.

"If our court is merged with Leicester then this element of justice in the locality will be lost forever - for a minimal cost saving of 60,000 a year.

"Harborough is not the same as Leicester. A local court reflects this difference and reflects the local knowledge."

The court sits every Thursday and every other Tuesday. It has already scaled back its hours this year after the previous Government enforced cuts.

Harborough MP Edward Garnier said: "We need to gather a good evidence-based case to put in through the Ministry of Justice consultation process with a view to their realising what a mistake it would be to close Harborough's court.

"We have until mid-September to do this and I urge residents of Harborough and the surrounding locality to respond to the consultation.

"Once the consultation is closed and the MoJ makes a decision I will, as a minister, have to accept collective responsibility for the decision whether it favours me and us or not.

"But we are not there yet so we need to organise and get the campaign rolling."

Tory and Liberal Democrat district councillors are both backing moves to save the court.

Cllr Phil Knowles (Lib Dem), who will be hitting the streets on Saturday to get names for the petition, said: "The court delivers local justice in the community - to travel to Leicester will have considerable implications."

Cllr Colin Golding, of the council's Tory-run executive, is putting a move before council to formally ask the Government to reconsider.

Sign the petition online by following this link.

Or you can do so at the Mail's office at 9 Northampton Road, Harborough.

Or write, before September 15, to Miss Olwen Kershaw, HMCS East Midlands, Nottingham Magistrates' Court, Carrington Street, Nottingham NG2 1EE.

* Have you seen justice delivered at the Harborough court and feel strongly about its future? Have you been a defendant and want to share your experiences of how a local court can help?

Email the newsdesk at alex.blackwell@harboroughmail.co.uk or phone 01858 436004.