OUT IN THE FIELD: Sad day for Eastbourne justice as court closes

Magistrates sat for the final time at Eastbourne Law Courts on Friday
Magistrates sat for the final time at Eastbourne Law Courts on Friday

It was a sad day last Friday when magistrates sat for the final time at the Law Courts in Old Orchard Road. Like the consultant-led maternity unit before it, the criminal law courts have moved to Hastings and despite the best efforts of campaigners to save it from leaving town, the closure sadly marks the end of local justice in Eastbourne. A little gathering was held to mark the occasion with former magistrates, retired court clerks, ex-ushers, solicitors from past and present and support staff having a cuppa and a trip down Memory Lane to recall when there was real local justice going right back to the 19th Century when a magistrate would dish out punishment in his own home. The Lord of Gildredge Manor dealt with cases in his home and the Courthouse, now the Counting House next to Waitrose, was at one time used to deliver justice. Very occasionally a magistrate sat in the Union Workhouse which was the Old St Mary’s Hospital. In Hailsham the upper room at the pub known as the King’s Head, becoming the Crown Inn and now the Grenadier, was the courtroom. The room also served as a billiard room and some magistrates were worried violent prisoners might attempt to use the billiard cues as weapons. As Eastbourne developed there are records of a vestry room in 1851 near the bottom of Grove Road where a policeman could be located and there were also stocks situated where the Town Hall now stands. If you couldn’t pay your fine, you were put in the stocks. At this point, may I suggest we bring them back? And perhaps place them on the little grassy spot outside the library and council/police offices in Grove Road. When the Town Hall was constructed, a beautiful Victorian courtroom was built within and used until the Magistrates’ Court in Old Orchard Road opened in 1975. In 2006 Her Majesty’s Court Service spent almost half a million pounds building a fifth courtroom on the site to accommodate the County Court, which was in The Avenue. Fast forward ten years and the whole site is closing: the Magistrates’ Court last Friday (when the final case saw someone led away to prison after being sentenced) and the County Court early next year. A sad day for local justice indeed.

The whole downland farm sale debacle continues and while I remain undecided over the whole affair, I thought I’d share the words of Trevor Beattie, the top man at the South Downs National Park Authority who says, “Local authorities can dispose of their assets as they see fit and we understand financial pressures many now face. But these countryside sites were secured for the people in the 1930s by farsighted councils and campaigners who wanted to protect our landscapes and water supply in perpetuity. The Downland estate is not a disposable financial asset to be switched from one capital account to another on some bean-counter’s balance sheet.”

Finally, a very merry Christmas to one and all. I’ll be spending the big day with the Little Treasures, friends and loved ones. Enjoy the festive season whatever you’re doing and stay safe. See you in the new year.

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