A NEW era for local justice has begun.
After months of extensive refurbishment, the new-look Kirklees Magistrates’ Court has been unveiled to the public.
Cases from the whole of the district are now being heard by magistrates sitting under one roof.
And court users will notice big changes to the building at Upperhead Row.
The seven courts have been extensively modernised and include new suspended ceilings with improved lighting and movable seating.
An extra dock has been added to bring the number of courts with secure docks for custody cases up to three and there are new interview and witness rooms.
Behind the scenes there have also been some significant changes, with new offices for the administration staff and legal team as well as new accommodation for the magistrates.
Eileen Marchant, chairman of the Kirklees bench, said: “There has been a focus on making sure that the users of the court will benefit from the changes.
“The emphasis has been on making it a better environment for everybody, whether it’s the court users or the solicitors.
“Before we had been very badly off for interview and witness rooms.
“The courts are now much more user-friendly. Changes from the new ceilings to taking the fixed furniture out have helped give more flexibility.”
The Huddersfield, Batley and Dewsbury Magistrates’ Courts actually amalgamated at the beginning of the year.
The Kirklees bench was operating on the two sites whilst the refurbishment work was undertaken in Huddersfield.
The Dewsbury courthouse closed its doors for good on March 23, with the Crown Prosecution Service now prosecuting all cases for Kirklees as opposed to split areas.
To cope with the amalgamation of the two benches, the number of magistrates has increased to 140.
Further magistrates may be recruited later in the year to help with the significant increase in workload.
Ms Marchant said that the cases dealt with by the court will double, with over 90% usage of the courts.
She said: “It’s been like moving homes. We’ve downsized from a large house to a three-bedroom semi.