A SALISBURY solicitor has criticised plans to overhaul magistrates’ courts in Wiltshire, saying they are based on distorted crime figures and represent a flawed criminal justice system.
Justice Minister Helen Grant is considering proposals that would see the majority of magistrate trials take place in Chippenham and cases where defendants are remanded in custody transferred to Swindon.
It means that less than four years after Salisbury’s £19m court complex opened, the magistrates’ courts would be left handling mainly family work.
Richard Griffiths, who started Richard Griffiths & Co in 1979, said the changes were the result of 30 per cent fewer defendants being put before the courts this year than in previous years.
He said: “This statistic is replicated nationwide. The courts get paid a given amount per completed case and consequently, their budget has shrunk.
“There are fewer arrests, not because there are fewer offenders but because a decision has been made to turn a blind eye to a whole raft of offending. The decision the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) now have to take is not whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute but is there any way we can avoid putting the offender before a court?”
Raising the matter in Parliament, Salisbury MP John Glen said the proposed changes to the magistrates’ court matrix overlooked the geography of Wiltshire, financial costs and the needs of victims and witnesses.
He urged the Justice Minister to rethink the plan and highlighted that those who rely on public transport faced journeys of up to three and a half hours to reach Chippenham.
A Wiltshire Police spokesman said the force worked closely with the CPS, courts and Tribunals Service. He said: “Each case is dealt with individually and with the best interests of victims taken into account.”
A CPS spokesman said a decision to prosecute was based on evidence and whether there was a “realistic prospect of conviction”.
A decision on Wiltshire’s courts is expected to be made in the next few months.