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Solicitor adds to criticism of plan for court closure

Sittingbourne magistrates court
Sittingbourne magistrates court

A solicitor who deals with many cases at Sittingbourne Magistrates' Court believes Ministry of Justice proposals to axe the court are "unworkable".

Geoff Playford shares the view of Swale magistrates that officials who drew up the cost-cutting plan have failed to take into account travelling times from outlying areas.

The ministry based its argument for closing the court and transferring Swale cases to Medway or Canterbury on car and train journey times from Sittingbourne, the longest of which was 33 minutes to Canterbury.

It said no one should have a journey of more than 60 minutes to attend court.

But Rainham-based Mr Playford said: "It seems to me they think everyone either has a car or lives close to Sittingbourne railway station, which of course is not the case.

"I had a good example only this week of why it won't work. A young adult of 18 or 19 was ordered to spend 36 hours at an attendance centre in Chatham.

"He lives in the Warden Bay or Leysdown area. To get there by 10am he has to catch a bus at 7.30am to Sheerness railway station, then a train to Sittingbourne and then another train to Chatham, followed by a walk of half an hour.

"This means he has a round trip of five hours in order to spend a couple of hours a day at the attendance centre. So he doesn't go.

"The same kind of thing would happen all the time if people had to rely on public transport to get to Chatham or Canterbury from outlying areas to attend court.

"Most of the people I deal with have neither cars nor money. Imagine a situation where a mother living in an outlying area has a teenage son she has to take to court in Chatham or Canterbury by 10am, costing her £12 to £14 in bus or train fares. She has another child she has to get to school by 9am. It's just unworkable.

"The result will then be that arrest warrants are issued, with all the added expense of police time and transport costs."

Mr Playford said the same travel problems would affect people who had to travel to court in Chatham or Canterbury from villages surrounding Sittingbourne, such as Conyer, Newnham, or Doddington, where public transport was poor.

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