Court served notice to leave

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MAGISTRATES will preside over their last case in Alnwick next week when the court retires for the final time.

As part of the Ministry of Justice’s consultation to cut costs, Alnwick Magistrates’ Court will close on April 1, ending its 400-year history. Yesterday, various criminal court proceedings ended, while on Monday, magistrates will decide on their last trial.

The majority of the bench will then be transferred to Bedlington while three magistrates have decided to move to Berwick’s bench and two have resigned from their duties.

Judith Woodruff, chairman of the Alnwick magistrates’ bench, said: “I still don’t think this is a very good thing for Alnwick. It is very disappointing and I certainly feel for the staff who are being split up.

“It is going to be a big loss to Alnwick. There has been a court there since the 1600s and I feel that we gave good value for money and served our local justice area well.

“It doesn’t make sense and now we have got a great area of Northumberland which isn’t really served by any court. I suppose they have got to be pragmatic but I think we fought a good fight to try to save our court.

“We put forward encouraging reasons to keep it but they just weren’t accepted. I am proud to have been bench chairman at Alnwick and I have enjoyed my time at the court. I am also very proud of the magistrates.

“I would also like to thank the Northumberland Gazette for their campaign and the local community for supporting us.”

The Gazette gained 681 signatures on a petition to keep the court open – including the Duke of Northumberland and his family – and 13 submissions were sent in support of keeping it.

County councillor for Alnwick Gordon Castle said: “I am really angry about this. There wasn’t anybody who put forward a coherent reason to close this court. They were obviously set on this course of action.

“It calls into question the whole point of this consultation.

“We had everybody on this case including Ministers and proving the case quite clearly. The building itself is still going to be there and it will still have to be maintained.

“Apart from diminishing the status of the town, it quite unecessarily inconveniences witnesses and the accused and the whole administrative process.”

Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP, said: “It’s a sad day for locally-administered justice and I strongly suspect that the cost to several services of travelling to Bedlington will outweigh any savings.”