Youth court closure ‘the end of local justice’

Chorley Magistrates Court.
Chorley Magistrates Court.

Chorley’s youth court services will be scrapped under a dramatic shake-up of the local justice system.

Plans put into place by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will see all youth services from the town relocated to other areas.

This will mean -

n stripping Chorley Magistrates’ Court of powers to deal with children between the ages of 10 and 17

n scrapping Chorley’s Youth Panel, and

n transporting children to neighbouring Preston or Ormskirk to be dealt with

The news comes as a blow to local leaders who have been fighting the change, saying the move will hit the most vulnerable.

Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle blasted the move, saying: “I understand this decision has been taken, and if it indeed has, then it is an absolute disaster. The government say they want local justice, but this is local justice being taken away.

“I now believe this is the government’s way of eventually closing Chorley Magistrates’ Court.

“If you keep chipping away then people ask what’s left.”

Coun Mark Perks, who is cabinet member for young people at Lancashire County Council, said: “I am extremely concerned and disappointed about the impact this will have on the services the county council delivers for young people.

“For me, the success is having Youth Offending Team based in Chorley and working with local magistrates to bring support to young people and their families.

“Many people who go to court don’t go back again because of that support.”

The youth court in Chorley Magistrates’ Court is a separate room which specifically deals with young people.

They differ to adult courts in that they do not have a formal dock and youngsters are dealt with by specially-training youth court magistrates.

The plans will see the number of youth courts across Lancashire reduced from 11 to six. This will take effect no later than July 1.

Coun Perks said: “We don’t just have young people coming from the town centre, they come from rural areas, and we clearly like them to be supported by their families. This will make it more difficult.

“A lot of young people might be from families who are vulnerable and need that support. The financial burden of having to find money to get to Preston might make it beyond their means.”

An HMCTS spokesperson said: “The proposals reflect a continuing fall in youth court business in the area, the need to make the best use of resources and to provide the best possible service to court users.

“It is proposed that two magistrates’ courts within each business district should be used for dealing with youth court business. These courthouses should be: Preston and Ormskirk in Central and South West Lancashire.

“The proposed youth court venues are accessible, have good transport links within the business district and also benefit from facilities geared towards youth court work.

“HMCTS will publish a response to the consultation shortly.”