Concern grows over plans to close Eastbourne law courts

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A campaign is underway to keep Eastbourne law courts open after it was shortlisted for closure as part of government cuts.

The Old Orchard Road building, which houses the magistrates’ court, county court and family court, is one of almost 100 earmarked for closure.

The government is currently consulting on the proposal and says the court is underused.

“Last year over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than 50 per cent of their available hearing time,” said Shailesh Vara, from the Ministry of Justice.

“The estate costs taxpayers around half a billion pounds each year, and at present, it is underused.

“Last year over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than 50 per cent of their available hearing time.”

“The consultation puts forward proposals that aim to reduce this surplus capacity. The buildings being consulted on represent 16 per cent of hearing rooms across the estate which are, on average, used for only a third of their available time.

“That is equivalent to fewer than two out of five days in a week.”

But Conservative MP for Eastbourne Caroline Ansell said this week she was against the proposal.

“Following the announcement last week of a proposal to close the Eastbourne Law Court, I had an urgent meeting on my return to Parliament on Monday with Justice Minster and Under Secretary of State, Shailesh Vara MP who has responsibility for courts and legal aid.

“I challenged aspects of the initial Eastbourne briefing paper - specifically around our poor transport links and stated journey times and also the impact on access to legal aid.

“Underutilisation is clearly an issue; why are so very many cases diverted to Hastings and Brighton? The building is not, I understand compliant with the Equality Act.

“What sort of investment would make it so and would costs be prohibitive? It’s prime town centre location perhaps offers up a new development opportunity to benefit local people and the town without losing ‘local justice’.

“We discussed the potential for re-establishing the court in alternative civic buildings - the Town Hall perhaps or Grove Road where we already have council and police shared space in operation.

“I secured agreement from the minister that innovative local propositions would be considered in the consultation.

“I am meeting members of our local legal community at the end of the week.

“I understand savings must be found across government departments but I will be working hard to take our case to keep justice local to the Under Secretary of State ahead of the consultation close in October.”

To take part in the consultation, go to: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-on-the-provision-of-court-and-tribunal-estate-in-england-and-wales.

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