A review of Youth Courts across the county could see children from the Lancaster district having to attend hearings in Preston.
Currently, Lancaster Magistrates Court holds its Youth Court every Tuesday, however The Judicial Business Group (JBG) for Cumbria and Lancashire and HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) say the workload has significantly reduced over the last 10 years.
A consultation which runs until September 16 sets out three options for Youth Courts in Lancashire.
These are to keep the courts as they are with sittings in Lancaster, Preston, Blackpool, Blackburn and Burnley, reduce courthouses to three – Preston, Blackpool and Blackburn or Burnley, or have one dedicated youth court in Preston. The JBG and HMCTS have recommended one centralised youth couty for the county.
But Elaine Hartley, from Heysham, says the removal of youth work in the city would be “another nail in the coffin of local justice in Lancaster”.
She said: “A concern for us all must be that by the time something reaches the ‘consultation’ stage that the decision has effectively already been made.
The effect locally is that children, and let’s not forget that’s what they are, will have to travel to courts in other towns to be heard.
“Various excuses are given for this. But I believe the real reason is cost. It’s said that there are good public transport links between Lancaster and Preston so the Youth Courts could be held there. That may be so but it’s still a trek for a child.
“With Kendal Magistrates’ Court due to close in the New Year children may already have to travel to Lancaster from less accessible parts of Cumbria; travelling to Preston is a step too far. Even within our own district the journey from, say, Middleton/Heysham to Preston isn’t straight forward. If ever there was a case to retain services locally this is it. It is not beyond the wit of HMCTS to overcome the issues raised in their ‘consultation’ paper. The removal of Youth work is another nail in the coffin of local justice in Lancaster.
“More and more people are being dealt with by police fixed penalties or being forced to travel to courts in other towns to defend their cases.
“Do we want to retain local justice in Lancaster? It doesn’t feel as though it’ll be here much longer.”
The report says that the overall volume of completed cases, between 2006 and 2015, reduced by 3,567 (from 5548 to 1981) or 64.29 per cent.
Lancaster Youth Court sits regularly on a Tuesday morning but often assists with adult work and in the afternoon.
The report summarises: The JBG has a responsibility to ensure there are appropriate arrangements in place for the conduct of the judicial business of the area and HMCTS has a responsibility to ensure the efficient and effective administration of justice. Both jointly propose that the number of venues listing youth cases should reduce to one venue. Having formed this view, the JBG and HMCTS wish to obtain the views of interested parties on the proposal and on any alternative options.