The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has added his voice to those demanding that Justice Department plans for the closure of Bridgend Law Courts should be dropped.
The Justice Department proposal would mean the closure of Bridgend Law Courts, with the consequent transferring of civil, family and tribunal hearings to Port Talbot Justice Centre, and of criminal cases to Cardiff Law Courts.
Mr Black said:
“It is my view that the journey times for those in the Bridgend County Borough Council area who would be required to attend hearings in Port Talbot are unreasonable, as is the route.
“Public transport links between the two towns appear reasonable on the face of it, but no account has been taken of the fact that those travelling by bus will face a more than 700m walk including the crossing of a busy dual carriageway from the bus station; whereas those travelling by train will be obliged to walk approximately 750m along a dual carriageway, starting by walking across the main Swansea to Paddington railway line via a level crossing.
“In any case, I do not feel that subjecting Bridgend residents to a 30 mile round trip to Port Talbot in one direction, or a 46 mile round trip to Cardiff in the other serves the administration of justice.
“Mention is made of the possibility of hearings being conducted by video link, on paper, or over the telephone. I do not feel that telephone hearings or paper-based hearings are appropriate in any but the most basic of cases.
“The majority of human interaction is non-verbal, and therefore to deny the court the opportunity of seeing defendants, witnesses, and victims in person is wrong.
“Finally, I am very concerned that these closures will increase the number of guilty pleas made by those defendants who cannot face a stressful, unfamiliar, costly, or time-consuming journey.
“Worrying evidence is already appearing that suggests poorer people are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit out of fear they will face crippling costs imposed by the new financial penalties the Justice Department have decided to impose.
“The closure of local courts can only exacerbate this trend, and is bad for the administration of justice.”