Local justice joy for Observer

A free weekly newspaper has succeeded in a campaign to save its local magistrates’ court from closure.

The Sutton Coldfield Observer launched the Keep Justice Local campaign in August 2002 after news that the Home Office was to replace a number of local courts with a “super-court” in Birmingham city centre.

Last week, the decision to close the Sutton Coldfield court was reversed and courts minister Christopher Leslie said the arguments put forward by the paper had been “too strong to ignore”.

Headed by reporter Laura Mackin, the Observer campaign included a series of comment pieces and a petition signed by 5,500 people.

The paper argued that closing the court would make a mockery of the established legal principle that “justice should be seen to be done”.

Editor Gary Phelps said: “We try to get reporters to court as often as possible and that’s getting more and more difficult for local papers today.

“They were talking about moving the court to the city centre which is eight miles away. It would have been impossible to send a reporter up there for the whole day on the off chance that someone from Sutton Coldfield would be appearing.”

He also argued the move would waste police time and money, hit the local economy, chip away at the town’s character and make life harder for crime witnesses and victims.

Phelps said: “The closure of a courthouse isn’t exactly a sexy subject so there was always a risk that the campaign wouldn’t catch the public’s imagination.

“But when the petition forms began to come in we knew we had touched a raw nerve.

“A courthouse is much like a police station, fire station or hospital – most people are happy if they never have to use them. So to get 5,500 names on the petition was a phenomenal amount.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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