Partial victory in court campaign

A controversial plan to move county court hearings from Hitchin to Luton has been changed to allow some cases to be heard in Stevenage.

The money-saving plan by HM Courts Service to close Hitchin County Court later this year and move its case-load to Luton County Court has been heavily criticised by MPs, Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) bosses and this paper for its negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

North East Herts MP Oliver Heald and Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland both wrote to Jonathan Lane, area director of the service, to say the change would leave the poorest, threatened with eviction and debt issues, even worse off because of extra transport costs.

Sally Salisbury, manager at North Herts CAB, said representatives would be unable to appear in court for every case because of the extra distance, forcing defendants to represent themselves.

They argued the Hitchin cases should be moved instead to the Stevenage Magistrates’ Court building, a model used at Hertford and St Albans.

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In response to the campaign Mr Lane said the Hitchin case-load will be split between Luton and Stevenage.

He said: “As part of the implementation phase we are in the process of adjusting an informal courtroom at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court to make it suitable for county court hearings. Our plan is to allocate the Hitchin work between Luton County Court and the new facility at Stevenage.”

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Mr Heald said he was pleased to see “a move in the right direction”, but would push for a commitment to all defendants adversely affected by the move.

He said: “It is very inconvenient for many constituents in North East Hertfordshire to attend court in Luton, given the transport arrangements and lack of public transport. This is welcome, but I will be pressing for all cases where it is inconvenient to attend Luton, to be dealt with at Stevenage.”

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