UPDATE: Concerns as King’s Lynn County Court closure confirmed

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Lynn’s county court is set to close later this year under plans announced this afternoon.

Work currently done at the King Street facility is set to be transferred to the town’s magistrates court complex in College Lane, as well as court sites in Peterborough and Norwich.

But it is still unclear what work, and how much of it, will still be done in the town.

And the area’s MP says he will be seeking urgent talks with ministers to clarify the details of the plan.

Today’s announcement follows a public consultation last year on proposals to close dozens of court buildings across England and Wales, including Lynn’s county court.

Officials from the Ministry of Justice say the sites proposed for closure are either underused or unsuitable for its plans to deal with more of its caseload on digital platforms.

The county court is one of more than 80 sites across England and Wales earmarked for closure that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says is either underused or unsuitable for digital upgrading work to take place.

Officials say the building was only used 22 per cent of the time during the 2014-15 financial year.

Documents published by the MoJ indicate that officials intend to close the court between July and September this year.

They say the existing lease on the premises, which cost just over £300,000 a year according to latest figures, was due to run out in October this year.

The ministry said: “It is envisaged that all family court hearings will be held locally at King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and it will be possible to hold some urgent civil hearings at this venue.

“In addition HM Courts & Tribunals Service will provide video link facilities at King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court and Family Court.”

The document also said other locations would be considered for occasional hearings. Lynn’s town hall has been suggested as an alternative venue.

But it is not clear whether inquest hearings, which have also been held at the county court, will continue to take place in Lynn.

North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham described the closure announcement as “sad” and said he would be seeking a meeting with courts minister Shailesh Vara or the justice secretary, Michael Gove, about the issue.

“It’s the one type of tribunal that is critically important to victims and families. To move that away would be very tough.”

Sir Henry said the provision for some family and civil work to continue in Lynn was encouraging, but said he wanted more detail about just how much work will take place in the town.

He said: “If it’s 10 per cent, it’s unacceptable. If it’s 70 or 80 per cent, then there’s some consolation.”

The plan to move family cases into the magistrates court has been supported by the body representing the county’s magistrates, according to the MoJ’s documents.

They quote the Norfolk Magistrates’ Bench as saying: “There is space within King’s Lynn Magistrates’ court to accommodate the Regional Charging Order Unit and Family hearings.

“We believe that there is space to take further civil and tribunal work…a better alternative than sending work to Peterborough and Norwich.”

But an unnamed solicitor said: “Removing a hearing centre from King’s Lynn will impose a financial burden on litigants in person and represented parties alike.

“I would submit that some of the most vulnerable members of the public will be disadvantaged to the point that there will be no access to justice for them if they are forced to travel to Norwich.”

And Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society, has called for further talks on the closure plans.

He said: “Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone must be able to access legal advice and the justice system.”