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Kent court to close but HMCTS finds local alternative

By John Hyde >>

Court chiefs have revealed they have found a way to keep justice operations in a Kent town despite being forced to close the local court.

HM Courts & Tribunals Services today confirmed that Medway County and Family Court will relocate eventually to the Medway Council buildings in Chatham once necessary enabling works have been carried out. 

The current court building is being vacated this summer after HMCTS’s lease expired and the landlord opted to redevelop the site. As an interim measure before the council building is ready, the Holiday Inn between Rochester and Chatham will provide court space including three hearing rooms. These arrangements are expected to be in place for 18 months.

Lorraine Tedeschini, delivery director for the south east region, said: ‘We are confident that our arrangements, both interim and longer-term, will provide an appropriate level of operational capacity. Establishing Gun Wharf as Medway County and Family Court in the longer-term means that concerns regarding ease of travel to court are resolved by using a location that is close to the current court.’

The decision followed a consultation last year, where HMCTS initially proposed that most work be permanently relocated to Maidstone Combined Court,  11 miles from Chatham. The plans also involved interim arrangements while the Maidstone buildings were improved to spread hearings across the existing estate. The court service said it was clear from the majority of the 64 consultation responses that people overwhelmingly wanted to retain court provision in Medway.

In a joint submission, family judges in Kent said the plan to triage every case to identify which needed a face-to-face hearing was ‘unrealistic and unworkable’. Medway Council also said the original plans failed to consider the large number of court users who were reliant on public transport and faced an extra hour’s travelling time to Maidstone.

According to last year’s consultation document, Medway County Court has seven courtrooms and is the designated family court for Kent, operating at a ‘high-level’ of utilisation. The building is also occupied by Cafcass, the Insolvency Service and the National Probation Service. During the 2019/20 financial year, Medway County and Family Court sat for a total of 6,670 hours, being used 75% of the time, with operating costs of £418,000. There were five judges and 32 administration staff based at the site.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)