ANGER AND SADNESS AS KESWICK COURT CLOSES FOR BUSINESS
KESWICK Magistrates’ Court closed its doors for the final time yesterday despite a spirited fight by justices and townsfolk to keep it open. In future, cases from the area will be heard at Workington.
The closure of the court follows public consultation on a report by the Cumbria magistrates’ courts committee on the future delivery of justice in the county.
Keswick magistrate Martin Jordan is not only sad but still angry about the closure, which he feels was forced on the town. The task of chairing the final court in Keswick fell to Mr. Jordan, who has been instrumental in organising the campaign to try and overturn the closure decision.
He said in his final speech at the courthouse: “I am very sad Keswick is losing its court after hundreds of years of having justice delivered to the community by members of the community.”
Mr Jordan pointed out that, although court business was being moved only a few miles, in other ways it was “worlds away”.
Mr. Jordan is the longest standing magistrate on Keswick Bench and joined 18 years ago to serve the community of Keswick. But, he tendered his resignation at the close of business yesterday and will not be making the move to sit on the Workington Bench.
He said: “The sacrifices of time and energy my family and I have been prepared to make in the past have been made gladly for Keswick.
“However, adding two hours’ travelling time for each sitting to serve the community of Workington, a town I rarely visit and have no empathy for, is not something I feel any motivation for.”
Mr. Jordan is angry at the closure decision itself and the way he feels it was forced through against so much opposition. He claims the “discussion document” was no such thing, rather it was a statement of intent with the advantages of retaining the court never mentioned.
He continued: “The magistrates produced a document outlining the problems which will be created by closing this court and countering the reasons for the proposed closure.
“I want to make it clear that our submissions in this document have never been answered. They have simply been ignored.
“We believe the closure of this court will not save money, nor will it improve efficiency.
“It is called modernisation. It will move the business of this courthouse, with all its dignity and style and sense of purpose, to a room in Workington with all the ambience of your average schoolroom.”
Keswick courthouse, in Bank Street, was designed by the then Cumberland county architect and built in 1901. It was opened by Cumberland’s Chief Constable in 1902.
However, it is thought local courts have been held in Keswick for hundreds of years. There was a Copyhold and Baronial Court in the town from medieval times. By 1847, a magistrates’ court operated from the second floor of Keswick Moot Hall on most Saturdays.
Keswick courthouse, which is attached to the police station, has many of the original fixtures and fittings still inside.
The Lake District National Park Authority asked, in September, for the building to be listed, not only because of its importance to the townscape of the conservation area but also because of the original interior.
It is understood that this has been agreed and official confirmation of its listed status is expected in the next few weeks.
National park conservation officer Andrew Lowe said: “It is assumed the fitments are original right down to the studded doors and latches and hinges which are late Victorian and solid.
“It would be fitting if the building could be listed to mark its centenary.”
During their years of service, members of the Keswick Bench have been known to take a hard line on issues which affect the town.
Most notably, in July, 1981, town magistrates hit the headlines nationally when a group of 1,000 Mods invaded the town, causing serious damage to property.
Many were arrested and appeared before a special sitting of the Bench where the ringleaders were fined £1,000 — and those unable to pay were threatened with confiscation of their scooters.
Leslie Eynon was chairman of the Bench at the time and the national press praised him for his hard line sentencing.
As well as being a magistrates’ court for almost 100 years, the building has also been used for many thousands of inquests, including those concerning many major accidents on the A66 and mountain and lakes tragedies.