Bury St Edmunds Magistrates Court – A Ghostly Remnant of Local Justice


bury st edmunds magistrates court a ghostly remnant
I have walked to Bury St Edmunds Court to practise my trade almost every working day for more than twenty years.

Passing between the Norman Tower and the Cathedral and on through the churchyard; past squirrels arching their way across the snow in winter; inhaling the smell of new-mown graveyard in summer.

Around here the very air is redolent of history and of the finest and noblest traditions of justice.

Just as Shire Hall itself is. The building may now resemble a slightly raddled but still formidable aged aunt; but it has always felt the way a court should feel.

Now criminal justice for West Suffolk has been shifted to Ipswich and that is a crying shame.

The old girl on Honey Hill deserves better.

And more importantly, the tradition she represents deserves better.

Whatever cosmetic blandishments are paraded for Ipswich Magistrates court, is it really that much more fit for purpose than (an admittedly jaded) Shire Hall ?

Ipswich itself is a fine town; but it is a long long way from Haverhill, from Brandon, from Lakenheath.

Especially if you have little or no means.

Take my recent client DB, given bail conditions to report to Haverhill Police Station daily.

It transpired that Haverhill police station has been closed down. Notified of this, Ipswich Court in its wisdom and without reference to defence or prosecution, changed the daily reporting condition to Bury St Edmunds.

Nineteen miles away for a Haverhill man of no fixed abode, with no means of transport and receiving only intermittent benefit.

And how does DB travel the additional twenty-six miles to Ipswich when there is an actual hearing?

This process has been about money, about the manipulation of statistics and about vested interests.

In the current climate careers are often better preserved and advanced by being the person to propose cuts and then preside over their implementation, rather than that awkward individual who chooses to fight for what is right.

Our justice system should not be about administrators; not about lawyers; not even about Magistrates.

It is about the law, the likes of DB and it is about victims.

And it is best served locally.

We all endorse efficiency, but if you sit at the back of Ipswich Magistrates Court tomorrow, you might think that the overwhelming ethos is to have as many people plead guilty as quickly as possible and never mind the merits.

There is a risk that we all become complicit in the headlong rush for speed.

That is not efficiency.

One day I hope we will have a Bury St Edmunds Magistrates Court again; but I am not holding my breath.

In the meantime when I walk past Shire Hall I will remember good days and bad. An infamous snowball fight between lawyers. A defence lawyer practising WWE wrestling moves in the well of the court. Our very own Statler and Waldorf, who for years delivered a running commentary from the public gallery, rewarding us with sweets for the entertainment. A magistrate interrupting the court list every ten minutes for the usher to check the latest rugby score. How the Canon’s chickens ended up in court…..

Most of all I will remember the people I have defended, so many of them now gone into the silent land. I will see their shades sitting on the churchyard benches drinking their ghostly strong lager and cadging cigarettes from ghostly colleagues.

Every court has its own history, its own stories, its own characters.

But this has been our court and for a fleeting time we have been a part of its history. It is the repository of our stories. These have been our characters.

It has been a privilege.