‘Denying access to justice’: Oldham Council hit back at plans to close courts

Oldham Council has united in firmly opposing proposals to close Oldham Magistrates Court and Oldham County Court.

The leaders of the political parties who make up the council – Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservative and UKIP – have refused to support the proposals of the Ministry of Justice to close the buildings.

Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon has hit out at government over the lack of justice and negative effects the move will have on the town.

He said: “Denying access to justice has been fair game for this government.

“First with the changes to legal aid and now through a targeted closure programme to snatch away local courts for people to have fair access to justice.

“This will undoubtedly be a false economy as the workload for those courts which remain is trebled causing delays in the over-stretched criminal justice system.”

The government department is recommending the workload of Oldham Magistrates and Oldham country court is transferred to Tameside Magistrates Court and Manchester County Court respectively.

A motion was approved on September 9 to write to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Justice, to ask him to reconsider the decision to close the Oldham courts.

The letter addresses a number of reasons why the proposed closures are unjustified including: access to justice, impact on local economy, impact on the other courts, Greater Manchester devolution, quality of existing facilities.

The letter points out: “The underlying theme is an inaccessible justice system and an attack on the fundamental rights in the borough.

“Access to justice is a fundamental right. The requirement to travel longer distances to court will impact significantly on the residents of Oldham.

“Greater Manchester is set to lose 218 jobs. No other region is due to this many jobs which shows that Greater Manchester will be more impacted economically than any other area in the UK.”

Councillors have also highlighted the quality of facilities, especially the Oldham County Court, and have come up with alternative suggestions to compromise closing both courts.

The Council’s letter said: “Both the Oldham County and Magistrates Courts have facilities to a high standard.

“In particular, the Oldham County Court is a modern fit for purpose court building which was only opened in 1998.

“There is an alternative to a closure of both courts.

“There is scope for consideration as to whether the existing Count Court could be retained with the Magistrates Court function to be located in the County Court building.”

Image courtesy of Mikey, with thanks.

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