Kingston Magistrates' Court closes
The curtain came down on 500 years of local justice yesterday when magistrates’ heard their last case and closed their doors forever.
The closure came despite a Surrey Comet campaign that won the overwhelming support of MPs, councillors, lawyers, court users and thousands of readers who signed our petition.
Speaking at a special closure ceremony on Thursday, June 30, chair of the Kingston bench David Mulholland revealed the Queen had written to him in the week of the royal wedding to thank Kingston magistrates for their support.
He said: “The Kingston courthouse is more than this fine building. It has a special place in this community because of the people who work here either as paid employees or as volunteers.
“With the front desk volunteers and victim support volunteers, we have over 1,000 years of voluntary service that we have given to the Kingston community. We are the original Big Society of the local community, volunteering in the local community.”
The court’s fate was sealed last December when Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly announced it was one of 93 courts to close as part of a Government cost-cutting exercise.
Addressing dignitaries gathered in Court Three, Mr Mulholland thanked the Surrey Comet for its “magnificent support”, before unveiling a commemorative brass plaque on the magistrates’ entrance.
Many of Kingston’s 83 current magistrates will now hear cases in Richmond, Wimbledon and Battersea.
For some, including David Thompson, who chaired the court’s last session, yesterday marked their retirement after many years of service.
The future use of the historic court rooms, build in the basement of the Guildhall in 1936, remains uncertain as the council reviews its property portfolio.
This is a very sad day for Kingston, which has always been centre for justice for the borough and wider area, with its county court and Crown Court, which has grown immensely in stature over the years.
Those who were involved in the first fight to save the magistrates’ court will be particularly saddened that the court has closed. Thousands of people signed our petition to save the court, but to no avail.
We fought a good fight then, and did similarly this time, but the money counters simply could not be convinced.
We will be watching closely in coming weeks to assess the impact the court move has had.
Police time will be wasted and those who have committed crimes in Kingston will not necessarily be dealt with by people acquainted to the issues of our areas.
Those appearing in court will have to travel further to get there, while the listed magistrates’ court under Kingston Guildhall will lay empty.
If this plan to centralise services does not work out, I urge the authorities to bring justice at every level back to Kingston town centre.