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Sevenoaks Magistrates Court shuts for six days, cases shift to Maidstone

Courts are lying empty while victims and families wait for justice.

On one day last month Maidstone Crown Court had just one courtroom openout of the eight available.

Sevenoaks Magistrates Court
Sevenoaks Magistrates Court

A career prosecutor told KentOnline: "There has never been a better time to be a crook."

Lower level cases are also feeling the squeeze, Sevenoaks Magistrates Court was completely shut for six days between July and August.

No other magistrates court was closed in the county, with Sevenoaks cases shifting to Maidstone during the closures.

Chris Henley QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said: "There is a deliberate and aggressive squeeze on court capacity by the government to save money."

Magistrates court in Dartford, Dover and Tunbridge Wells have all shut for good in recent years.

Imagine a combined court centre and a new Kent Police station in Sandling Road, Maidstone
Imagine a combined court centre and a new Kent Police station in Sandling Road, Maidstone

Penelope Gibbs, director of charity Transform Justice, said: "Local courts are at the heart of local justice.

"As police prosecutions fall and more cases are dealt with online, more local magistrates' courts will be threatened with closure. "Do we want local justice to disappear?"

A HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman said: "Sevenoaks Magistrates Court is not closing.

"The number of cases in the region is reducing and, after consulting judges, some cases have very occasionally been moved to nearby Maidstone courts on a very small number of occasions to improve efficiency.

"This helps deliver justice quicker and saves taxpayers’ money."

Like Maidstone, Sevenoaks' court does hear trials and case management hearings, but it typically hears lower level cases too, such as rail trespassers and speeding offences.

Probation workers tend to be based at Maidstone instead of Sevenoaks.

Courts this time of year are known to be quieter than other months as judges take holidays.

Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture
Maidstone Crown Court. Stock picture

However, their absences are usually covered by recorders to enable courtrooms to continue hearing cases.

If cases are shifting towards Maidstone and the sprawling crown court is lying mostly unused, there's an argument for one central court in the County Town.

The Kent Messenger's Maidstone Vision has already suggested combining magistrates and crown cases, along with the coroner's courts, at a justice hub next to Maidstone East station.

Our suggested central court would replace the old sorting office on Sandling Road and would be combined with a new Kent Police station.

Maidstone Borough Council has its own plans for the site.

Though still very much in the early stages, the council hopes to build 400 flats along with offices, shops and a health centre.

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here.

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Sevenoaks

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