IT IS not so many years ago that magistrates courts were held throughout South Lakeland and Eden, with courts in places like Windermere, Hawkshead, Kirkby Lonsdale and Penrith, as well as at Kendal. All those have closed, apart from Kendal, which hosts criminal and civil hearings.

But now, to save money, the Ministry of Justice has announced proposals to close 91 court buildings, including Kendal. Cases from the town would be transferred to Barrow instead.

The move has prompted outrage from some local solicitors and Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has tabled an Early Day Motion voicing deep concern about the potential loss of the Kendal court. In addition, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes has warned the proposed closure could have a serious impact on victims, witnesses and police costs.

Barrow is 37 miles from Kendal. A one-way car journey takes around 55 minutes. A bus journey takes around one hour 40 minutes and a train trip, requiring two changes, takes between one and a half and two and a half hours.

That is putting a considerable burden on people during a time of potential stress. It might put some witnesses off doing their civic duty. It will make it harder for The Westmorland Gazette to report local cases. And it is likely to lead to increase costs for police and solicitors.

The Courts and Tribunals Service says video links could be used to reduce travelling time.

However, local solicitors warn there would need to be a major investment in technology and such links take away from the gravitas of a court hearing.

Ready access to justice is a fundamental part of Britain’s legal system. The new proposal harms that concept.

It is also important that justice should be seen to be done in an area - local people have a right to see criminals brought to justice within their community.

For all these reasons the Gazette has today launched its Keep Justice in Kendal campaign. Please sign the coupon in today’s edition and fight to save Kendal’s court.