County court to close
Morpeth and Berwick County Court is to close later this year following confirmation from central Government.
The announcement was made after proposals to modernise the HM Courts and Tribunals Service across England and Wales were put forward in a bid to make the justice system more efficient.
Morpeth County Court will close alongside 86 crown, magistrates and county courts across the country.
Northumberland County Council is now writing to the Ministry of Justice offering to host courts in council buildings to host social care proceedings to prevent ‘unacceptable’ delays.
Last year the council had 83 care proceedings going through the courts, the highest figure for five years, and the figure is expected to rise even higher this year.
The closure of Morpeth County Court in May will leave the majority of residents and organisations from across the 5,013km² of Northumberland having to travel to Newcastle to access services.
It will also be the latest in a line of recent court closures in Northumberland, including Hexham and Alnwick.
Leader of Northumberland County Council, Councillor Grant Davey, said: “We’re extremely disappointed with the outcome of the Courts and Tribunals service consultation.
“We are seeing an increasing number of services being moved out of Northumberland, and for a county of this size and rural nature it is a major concern.
“Moving the court will make it very difficult for people to attend or afford to make court appearances, especially as the Government’s changes to the legal aid system disadvantage the poor - this will make matters much worse.
“It will place an additional burden and inconvenience on residents and businesses in Northumberland and on those who rely on public transport, which can be limited in rural areas.
“It will also place additional pressures on the county which is already facing £58m of cuts from central Government, with officers faced with having to travel to, and pay for parking in Newcastle. We currently make regular use of Morpeth County Court for a range of matters, including child and adult care proceedings as well as prosecutions and housing proceedings.
“The court in Newcastle is already struggling with the amount of work it currently has so this could lead to delays in proceedings for our officers having to travel even further to other courts such as Sunderland. From Alnwick to Newcastle alone that’s a 70 mile round trip.
“The decision is very disappointing and the impact will undoubtedly be felt across the county. That’s why we’re writing to the Ministry of Justice to offer the use of some of our buildings to prevent even longer unacceptable delays in the court process.”