Highgate’s magistrates’ court closes its doors for good

Highgate’s magistrates have risen for the last time.

Haringey Magistrates’ Court, in Bishops Road, heard its last cases on Friday, closing the door on 56 years of service to the community.

In fact, the court’s history goes back further – an original courthouse was destroyed by a Doodlebug in 1944.

While many expressed sadness at its end, it was business as usual on Friday with a long list of cases to get through.

Michael Carroll, who was defending clients as he has done for more than 25 years, said: “It’s the end of local justice for Haringey. It is just very sad really – quite a few people made special trips to come here on the last day.”

Legal adviser Peter May, who had been working at the court since 1987, said: “There’s sadness but it is sort of inevitable really. It’s been on the edge of going for a while so it’s not unexpected.”

The Ministry of Justice announced its closure as part of a �40million cost-cutting drive two years ago, though it has yet to decide what to do with the now-empty site.

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The decision to move the court’s caseload to Highbury Corner and Enfield magistrates was not universally popular but Stephen Ayres – a former chairman of Haringey magistrates – believes it is the right decision.

Mr Ayres, who sat in court one as chairman of the bench on Friday, said: “This court has never been relevant. The one thing I regret is we did not get the courthouse we should have – we should have had Tottenham.

“Something like 60 per cent of our cases live or offend in Tottenham. It can take them up to an hour-and-a-half to get here.

“Highbury Corner has a great number of advantages – this bench was the only one which voted for amalgamation because we could see the advantages for the local people getting to that court.”

As London’s longest-serving magistrate – Mr Ayres first sat at the then-Highgate Magistrates’ Court in 1972 – he has seen a fair few cases pass through, including that of Muswell Hill serial killer Dennis Nilsen who appeared in the dock on an “almost weekly basis” while being committed to the Old Bailey for trial.

He also speaks proudly of the court’s “wonderful reputation” as a training ground for young lawyers, which produced five district judges and had a very low turnover of staff.

That being said, he does see disadvantages to the move as well including the loss of a local connection between magistrates and the area.

“I know this area backwards, I know what’s going on, I know how the system works. It works because you can go beyond what you are supposed to do to the advantage of the local community.”

However, he added: “I think we have served our local community faithfully and well for the last 56 years.

“Our staff have been extremely good.”