Fears have been raised over the future of Chorley’s Magistrates’ Court after Lancashire Police announced shock plans to close the cells in Leyland.
The decision means criminals arrested across Chorley and South Ribble will now have to be transferred to Preston or West Lancashire.
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle branded the decision ‘absurd’ and is demading that police chiefs re-think the proposal which is set to save them £500,000 a year.
He claims the decision will take more officers off the streets for longer periods of time and that the cases will be heard outside of Chorley and Leyland – sounding the death knell for the courts.
He added: “It is absolutely disgraceful they can even think about closing the cells at Leyland.
“The decision is absurd and shambolic.
“The Police said they have consulted with stakeholders before pressing ahead, but that is absolute rubbish.
“When we were told the cells were closing at Chorley we were reassured it wouldn’t cause an issue as the people arrested would be held in Leyland, the neighbouring town.
“It has, however had a big impact on the courts in Chorley and this decision is a real concern and a real threat to the future of our court.”
The Guardian has also learnt that the court, in St Thomas’s Road, is set to lose its docks in September and will no longer try cases that could result in a prison term.
That means that the magistrates sitting on the bench will no longer try cases involving domestic violence or breach of community orders.
They will, however deal with motoring offences from across Lancashire.
The decision comes just a year after the magistrates were stripped of their powers to sit as a youth court, presiding over cases involving defendants aged under 17.
They also scrapped the Chorley Youth Panel and decided to transport the youths to courts in Preston or Ormskirk.
Reacting to the latest decision, Mr Hoyle, Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, added: “There is no doubt that the planned closure of the cells in Leyland is a threat to the future of the court and the Chorley staff and solicitors who work from there.
“Justice should be administered locally and the magistrate’s court is a fundamental part of the justice system.
“The magistrates are chosen because they have good local knowledge of the area which helps them to try cases effectively.
“We also have to consider the impact that the changes will have on the number of police on our streets as they will be taken off for longer periods as they transfer defendants further to cells in Preston or West Lancashire.”
Lancashire Police will reduce the number of cells it operates from seven to six - with Leyland today being revealed as the casualty.
The MP continued: “A review was undertaken 18 months ago and it found that closing the cells at Leyland wouldn’t work.
“Lancashire Police has also spent more than £1m refurbishing the suite at Leyland only to close it.
“Taxpayers now face a double whammy as they will no doubt have to foot the bill for improvements at West Lancashire to accommodate the increase in prisoner numbers.
“A study has shown that it is actually used less than the facility at South Ribble so to close Leyland is crazy.
“I am calling on the police chiefs to re-think this decision before it is too late.”
The cells in Leyland were due to close in 2012, but were given a last minute reprieve to allow a full review of custody suites across the force.
The constabulary has been told to cut its budget by £42m .
Announcing the closure, Asst Chief Constable Mark Bates, responsible for Territorial Policing, Criminal Justice and Contact Management, said: “We have previously reviewed the custody provision across the county and took the difficult decision to close the Fleetwood custody suite in 2012 with no detrimental effect.
“At this time Leyland custody suite was also earmarked for closure but this was put on hold whilst the wider force restructure work developed. This closure will take place within the next six months.
“Due to the number of detainees and alternative disposals within the justice system, in order to make the best use of our officers and custody facilities it is necessary to make this cell block closure.
“This will also mean that, by delivering alternative means to escort detainees to our custody suites, we will be able to keep officers out on patrol visible to communities for longer.
“Prisoners that would normally be taken to Leyland will in the future be transported to the most appropriate custody suite available to the officer, regardless of which division that is in.”