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Archives for August 2010

Closing Mrs Cameron's Magistrates Court

Peter Henley | 10:10 UK time, Saturday, 21 August 2010


Magistrates courtIt's a ramshackle 60s building on the outskirts of a small Berkshire town. But Newbury's Magistrates Court has some real claims to fame.

Protests against cruise missiles at the women's peace camp at Greenham Common kept the court busy throughout the 80s.

The huge security operation around the building of the Newbury bypass in the nineties led to extra court sessions, as well as making a celebrity out of the eco-warrior Swampy.

Add to that a steady stream of celebrity speeding cases from the nearby M4 and A34. Many a footballer or soap star found themselves fighting camera crews through the car park.

But plans to close 103 courts across England and Wales could soon see the last witness called, the bench abandoned, and the clerk closing the book for a final time.

It's a government initiative, originally considered by Labour but now part of the push to reduce the deficit. But this will be one decision that's rather close to home for David Cameron.

Mary Cameron c/o Getty ImagesHis mother Mary was a mainstay of Newbury Magistrates for nearly 30 years, and many times our Prime Minister has referred to her role as a formative influence when he was a youngster in the village of Peasemore in Berkshire.

Would Mrs Cameron have wanted to be a magistrate in Reading? Does it make a difference to Newbury to know that local JPs, who understand their town, are upholding the law?

On Mother's Day, just before the election, Mrs Cameron herself described how it worked.

"I used to come home with stories sometimes, to almost warn the children about the perils of doing the wrong things," Mary Cameron said of her time on the Newbury bench. "I think he learnt probably a lot from that."

PM's cross-examination

At Prime Minister's Questions David Cameron had the comment thrown back at him by Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman.

"In the election he told us that his mother was a magistrate and that she told him that magistrates needed the power of short sentences."

"Quite often, it is the right thing for somebody not to listen to their new partner, but to listen to their mother!"

It nearly won that day for Labour. All over the country older Conservative women nodded their agreement. But Cameron was quick to come back.

"She served on the Newbury bench for many, many years. I have to say that one of the biggest challenges she had [interruption, cries of "Having you!" etc] was badly behaved CND protesters outside Greenham Common."

"I do not know whether the Right Honourable lady was there..." he added, with a wicked grin.

Campaign to prevent closure

There have been protests against the Ministry of Justice's plans, of course.

The current Chairwoman of the magistrates Jenny Verity points out that people accused of crimes would have to make "impossible" journeys to get to court on time.

Under the proposals which are out for consultation until 15 September business would be transferred to Reading.

Mrs Verity has been a local JP for more than 20 years, and said: "I see it as of great importance that local justice should not be compromised or reduced in any way."

"West Berkshire is a large area and it's vital for all court users that local justice should continue to be dispensed in Newbury and be administered by local magistrates."

It's a sentiment Mrs Cameron may well agree with.

It's unlikely she would come out and say it publicly, but perhaps a quiet word with her son over the holidays wouldn't go amiss?

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