Fight to stop Cardigan magistrates court closing

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Plans to close Cardigan magistrates court are being raised at a parliamentary debate.

Ceredigion MP Mark Williams is speaking out against the closure which would leave residents having to travel to courts in Aberystwyth or Haverfordwest.

The once-a-week sitting court, which costs £88,000 a year to run, is at risk under government plans to reorganise the courts service.

The Ministry of Justice has declined to comment on the matter.

"Access to justice is a fundamental principle," said the Liberal Democrat MP before the Westminster Hall debate.

The Ministry of Justice revealed plans last month to close 103 magistrates' courts in England and Wales.

Magistrates' courts deal with minor crimes, crown court committal hearings and licensing applications.

The ministry expect to save not only Cardigan's £88,000 a year running costs but also another £85,000 in backlog maintenance work.

Start Quote

We need to reflect on whether we are actually going to be denying people access rights”

End Quote Mark Williams Ceredigion MP

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales before the debate began, Mr Williams acknowledged that the ministry's plans for closures were "necessary" and "predictable".

But he added: "My concern is not that government has to cut costs but the implications of that, particularly in a rural area such as Ceredigion, where access to services has always been an issue.

"I would have thought access to justice is an even more fundamental one."

With regard to the savings from the court's closure, he urged the ministry to look at the "bigger picture".

"Access for witnesses; access for the police - there's pressure on the police budgets, their capacity to travel longer distances to give evidence in cases; the ability of local newspapers to go and report cases.

"Transparency in our court system is very important.

"All these are features which I hope we draw out (in the debate) and I hope the minister will look upon favourably."

Viability

Mr Williams said the issue was not confined to Cardigan, but that courts in Ammanford, Llandovery, Denbigh, Pwllheli, Flint, Chepstow, Abertillery, Abergavenny and Llangefni were also affected.

"I'm not going to justify the viability of all (these) courts," he said. "I don't know all those cases. But I do know about Cardigan.

"I do know about the opportunities to develop that magistrates court further to provide real, meaningful access to justice for people in south Ceredigion and for that matter north Pembrokeshire as well."

Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, described the closure plan as "a hammer blow" to the area.

"Current plans would leave my constituency for example without a single court - and this is the story across many parts of Wales," he said.

The Ministry of Justice would not comment, referring only to the section on Cardigan mentioned in its consultation document.

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