Vulnerable hit as court is given a death sentence

Witnesses in civil court cases will have to travel to Luton after Hitchin County Court was axed in a money-saving review of the justice system.

The Ministry of Justice published its full list of 94 magistrate and 49 county court closures on Tuesday, with Hitchin included, raising fears that those who can least afford it will be hit.

The court deals with civil cases such as divorce, debt issues and repossessions from across the area, but the majority of this case load will now go to Luton Crown Court. Family proceedings, which sit one day a week, will move to Stevenage Magistrates Court.

The court was chosen for closure because it only sits 244 days in the year, utilising only two of its three hearing rooms for half the available time each week. A disability discrimination complaint room was targeted for its lack of video link facilities, while waiting facilities were described as poor.

North East Herts MP Oliver Heald, who had called for a combined county and magistrates court in Stevenage said that while it was important for the Government to shake up the system, he hoped that somewhere could be found closer to home for residents.

You may also want to watch:

“It is a long journey for people in my constituency to go to Luton. I’m pleased they are sending the family services to Stevenage but I want them to go further. I want to press them to do other work there.”

Marian Hurle, manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Stevenage, said she was concerned for the hundreds of already vulnerable people the organisation represents every year.

Most Read

“The majority of people who enter Hitchin County Court are from Stevenage. The bus service to Luton takes a long time and is expensive. We have homeless hearings and those facing eviction – these are vulnerable people in any case.

“We are concerned for elderly people, disabled people, those with young children, those groups that we deal with. It’s not good news.”

She added that solicitors had told her Luton Crown Court already had a backload of work and had “no capacity to take on extra work”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department was working closely with those courts that will receive the extra workload to keep disruption of services at a minimum.

Closures will begin from April, with those courts without permanent staff being hit first.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter