MAGISTRATES and councillors in North Yorkshire are fighting plans to close two of the county's courts, at Pickering and Whitby.

The county Magistrates' Courts Committee (MCC) wants to close the courts next December because of the need to spend big sums to upgrade them.

But North Yorkshire East Coroner Michael Oakley said the closure of Pickering Court, which serves the Ryedale area, would be "the final nail in the coffin of providing local justice to the people".

"The public transport in Ryedale is abysmal," he said.

In future, people from Ryedale and the Whitby area will have to travel to Scarborough Court.

The MCC said that closing Pickering court will save only £12,000 a year on a budget for the county's courts of £3.5 m. Magistrate Lieutenant Colonel Tony Hemesley said "Local people will be less and less willing to become magistrates. We shall find cases are being heard by people with no local knowledge".

Paul Bradley, chief executive of the county magistrates court service, said it was planned to have just five courts in North Yorkshire - Scarborough, Harrogate, Skipton, York and Northallerton. The court at Richmond will also close as will Selby's when the new York Law Courts are built.

MCC Chairman John Bostock said "Our court buildings are relatively inadequate and we need to provide a long term strategy".

Meanwhile, Scarborough Borough Council's cabinet has "reluctantly agreed" to plans to close Whitby court.

One alternative suggested was to use the court as a dual-purpose building for other agencies but other councillors said there would be security problems.