A NEW era has dawned for local justice.
The magistrates courts across Kirklees have merged into one new unit.
And that means the end of several hundred years of history of local magistrates dispensing justice in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley.
Now all have combined to create the Kirklees Bench.
That will be based in Huddersfield, but only after extensive renovation works have been completed to the Upperhead Row courthouse, probably by March.
Although the Kirklees Bench has now been launched, the Dewsbury court will remain open until the end of March to enable renovation work to take place at the Huddersfield courthouse.
There will be a limited number of courts operating in Huddersfield during the building works, but the majority of the Kirklees magistrates and the bulk of the work will be at Dewsbury.
From the beginning of April the Kirklees Bench will sit in Huddersfield and Dewsbury will finally close.
Eileen Marchant, a long-serving magistrate in Huddersfield, has been chosen as the new chairman of the bench.
Ms Marchant has been a magistrate since 1987 and is a former Chairman of the Huddersfield Bench.
The two Deputy Chairmen are Eddie Brady and Christine Mills. Eddie was the last chairman of the Batley and Dewsbury Bench and Christine was chairman of the Huddersfield Family Panel so both bring significant experience to the leadership team.
Ms Marchant said: “Magistrates’ courts have always been about local justice, but as the world shrinks into a global village so local justice expands into a much wider area than we have known for the last two centuries.
“When Kirklees Council was created in 1974, north and south seemed to be poles apart, but over the years they have grown ever closer and now those magistrates who are from Batley and Dewsbury will soon become familiar with Huddersfield and its wider area as Huddersfield magistrates will get to know Batley and Dewsbury.
“Since the closure of the Batley and Dewsbury court was announced early in 2011 there has been a great deal of preparation for the launch of the new bench.
“The management teams of the two courts have worked closely together to ensure that the amalgamation will be as smooth as possible”.
Some court staff in Dewsbury and Batley are to lose their jobs and some magistrates have also opted to retire from the bench.
But Ms Marchant said that wholesale job losses had been avoided.
Looking ahead to the challenges that are bound to face the new bench in 2012 she said: “My philosophy is that it is the people, and how much they are valued, who are crucial to the success of any organisation; buildings or location are of secondary importance.
“Understandably change is often viewed with trepidation but together I know we will rise to the challenge and become a Kirklees Bench which is vibrant and effective.
“We are all committed to local justice and therefore by working together, we will not only learn from each other about the local areas which we serve, but also begin to understand the issues which are unique to those areas.
“This will enable us to move forward into a new combined culture.”
Magistrates have a history dating back more than 800 years.
Lay magistrates in the judicial system of England and Wales can be traced to the year 1195.
It was then that Richard I commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas.
They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld and were known as Keepers of the Peace.
The title Justices of the Peace derives from 1361, in the reign of Edward III.
An Act of 1327 had referred to “good and lawful men” to be appointed in every county in the land to “guard the peace”.
Justices of the Peace, or magistrates, still retain and occasionally use the power conferred or re-conferred on them in 1361 to bind over unruly persons “to be of good behaviour”.
Since then, until the invention of our modern system of local government in the 19th Century, JPs also administered the country at a local level.
They fixed wages, built and controlled roads and bridges and undertook to provide and supervise locally those services thought by the Monarch and by Parliament to be necessary for the welfare of the country.