Sussex magistrates upset at changes

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A row has erupted between East Sussex magistrates and their counterparts in the west of the county.

The disagreement stems from a government proposal to merge two Local Justice Areas within West Sussex but magistrates in East Sussex say the plans should go even further and merge all four Local Justice Areas – two within East Sussex and the two within West Sussex – in to just one unit.

The four Local Justice Areas are Sussex (Central) covering Brighton and Lewes Magistrates Courts, Sussex (Eastern) for Eastbourne and Hastings Magistrates Courts, Sussex (Northern) covering Crawley, Haywards Heath and Horsham Magistrates Courts and Sussex (Western) for Worthing and Chichester Magistrates Courts.

Ten “concerned” magistrates from both east and west Sussex have now written to 14 members of parliament representing constituencies affected by the Ministry of Justice proposals and say the chairmen of the two West Sussex LJAs are “ignoring the wishes of magistrates they lead”.

The letter says, “East and west Sussex are currently served by a single Court Service Administrative Unit and has a single family panel and advisory committee.

“The obvious way forward is to build on these pan Sussex elements and merge all four LJAs within east and west Sussex to create one cohesive unit.

“This will meet fully all of the criteria set by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service for such a merger; will not affect the delivery of justice within east and west Sussex; will deliver considerable savings and is supported by a large majority of magistrates within the four LJAs.

“However, the LJA chairmen within West Sussex are ignoring the wishes of magistrates they lead and are in conflict with the chairmen of the East Sussex LJAs who support the alternative proposal to create a single Sussex LJA.”

The magistrates also say the majority of their number have accepted the closure of courthouses in eastbourne and Chichester will go ahead.

The letter goes on to ask MPs to review the current proposals and push for a detailed review of an alternative proposal to create a single East and West Sussex.

The magistrates write, “This should take account of the likely closure of Eastbourne and Chichester courthouses and should the pan Sussex proposal proceed, the vast majority of magistrates will support it across east and west Sussex.”

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