Radical plans to overhaul the court system in the West Midlands would see a magistrates court closed and defendants forced to travel up to 20 miles to have their cases heard, it can be revealed today.
Court bosses are attempting to restructure the way courts are run due to ‘immense budgetary and resource pressures’.
Jobs may be under threat as part of the shake-up. It is not yet known what would happen to staff in the Dudley courthouse, but the consultation says there would be ‘obvious impacts’.
Under plans being put forward by the Ministry of Justice criminal casework at Dudley Magistrates’ Court would cease – meaning there would no longer be a criminal court in the Dudley borough.
Instead defendants in the region will travel to Sandwell and Walsall to have their cases heard, while all trials in the Black Country will now go to Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court, as will all youth cases.
Dudley would become a civil, family and tribunal centre under the proposals.
The plans were today slammed as ‘complete nonsense’ by a senior solicitor, who said that colleagues and magistrates opposed them.
Meanwhile, a long-serving magistrate questioned whether his colleagues would be prepared to sit in courts not local to them.
A six-week consultation is now under way, with users of the court encouraged to give their opinions. It is anticipated that the new arrangements will come into force as early as January 1 for what will be the newly-formed Black Country Local Justice Area.
The MOJ said a 20 per cent workload in Black Country court cases this year was also behind the move. Richard Dewis, a magistrate in Walsall for the past 19 years, said that while there was less work being done across the courts, it would deter magistrates – who volunteer their time – if they had to travel around the region.
The consultation closes on October 21 and all responses will be taken into account.
For a special report on the overhaul, see your Weekend Express & Star