Speech Westminster Hall Debate Magistrates Courts

May I congratulate the honourable member for Ceredigion for securing this vitally important debate. As many here will testify this is an issue that will have a major impact on a great number of our constituents. In my constituency the proposed closures will be a hammer blow to the local area eroding the connection between the local community and the justice that is provided through magistrates courts. From speaking to local residents and solicitors this is something that is of great concern to them. If the proposals do go ahead, and the notion of justice being directly linked to the communities in which the crimes took place is lost, the entire ideal of fairness in our society is put at risk.

Looking at the detail of the proposals I can only assume that the courts that are facing closure have been chosen completely at random as any examination of the impact would make it clear that these are not practical suggestions. One of the courts down for closure in my constituency is that of Llandovery. This certainly highlights to me the ‘off the cuff’ approach the UK government has taken. Anyone with knowledge of these provisions would have pointed out that the Llandovery service has in fact been closed for some time. I can only hope that it wasn’t the Ministry of Justices intention to shut the town’s library which has been operating from that site over the past few years!

However, what is deeply concerning is the lack of attention given to the impact of closing the main service in my constituency, namely the Ammanford Magistrates court. One of the justifications given for shutting the court services in Llandovery, in the north of Carmarthenshire, was that the people there could make the long journey to Ammanford. As someone who makes that journey by private means I can attest that it can take close to an hour despite the fact that the route is serviced by the main Swansea to Manchester trunk road.

The most recent round of closures will of course require people from the Llandovery, Cilycwm and Rhandirmwyn areas to make an extended trip out of the constituency to Llanelli. For people who can call on private transport, this is difficult at the best of times, but for those who can not, and with such poor public transport services in the county, it will be almost impossible for many people. We must also remember the government is asking people to be taking on the additional expense of public transport or added petrol costs at a time when families are already making the very difficult choices as a result of tightening family budgets.
The north of Carmarthenshire to Llanelli is not a natural public transport route with only the Heart of Wales line providing a direct route. Those who have travelled on that beautiful rail track will know that services aren’t regular enough to enable convenient travel to Llanelli with trains running on the line at four hour intervals if memory serves correct.

In my constituency this does not only impact on those travelling great distances to Ammanford but even people in the surrounding Amman Valley. Closing the Ammanford court will result in people in areas such as Brynamman, Garnant and Glanamman in the upper Amman Valley having to catch several different busses, often with long waiting times between connections. Indeed, the first bus from Ammanford doesn’t arrive in Llanelli until 10:30am. These proposals would leave my constituency without a single Court.

I was recently speaking to someone who plays an active role in the court services in Carmarthenshire who explained how one defendant had actually requested to be sent to jail as they did not foresee it financially or physically possible to undertake community service in another part of the county due to the limited public transport available.

There is certainly a strong case to be made that through closing these sites and expecting defendants, witnesses and court employees to travel further at greater personal cost we will inevitably end up with a situation where the amount of time and effort spent on chasing individuals who do not turn up to court rockets. This could be counter productive in regards to saving the public money.

It is evident from looking at the Ammanford court in my constituency that the decision was made without evaluating the individual merits of the court. £59,000 was spent refurbishing the facility over the last few years. It seems extraordinary that such a large amount of public money would be spent improving the court, to what I am told is now a good quality building and a state of the art Magistrates Court, only for it to then be closed without a second thought. This totally contradicts the mantra of ‘value for money’ that is supposedly at the heart of these proposals.

This is not the first time Ammanford Court has faced the threat of closure. At the last round of closures Ammanford was also on the hit list. Local Magistrates and the local legal community believed that the recent investment in the Court would safeguard its future. They are clearly very concerned about the Government’s proposals.

The proposals would also create one Carmarthenshire Bench. The Dinefwr bench which currently serves my constituency services one of the most concentrated areas of Welsh speakers in Wales and provides a fully bilingual service. Justice is therefore delivered in the language of choice of defendants. There are concerns that this could be lost as a result of the loss of the Dinefwr bench.

I am strongly opposed to these proposals and as they will have a hugely detrimental impact on the community based justice delivered by local Magistrates. I would urge the Minister to look again at his proposals, especially in Carmarthenshire where the negative impact of these closures will be felt throughout the County, especially amongst the most vulnerable in society.

Man Trafod - Rhowch sylwad yma

Bydd eich ateb yn cael ei gymedroli, ac ni fydd yn ymaddangos yn syth. Medrwch baratoi eich testun mewn prosesydd geiriau cyn ei roi yn y bocs, ond ni fydd elfennau megis trwmder tecst a lliw yn ymddangos.