Changes to the magistrates’ courts could lead to Huntingdonshire residents having to travel to Cambridge or Peterborough for hearings.

Currently Cambridgeshire is split into three local justice areas (LJA) - Huntingdonshire, South Cambridgeshire and North Cambridgeshire - sitting at courts in Huntingdon, Cambridge and Peterborough.

The HM Courts and Tribunals Service is proposing to merge the three areas for "more efficient case handling". A consultation has been launched by the Cambridgeshire and Essex Judicial Business Group (JBG), which is looking into the scheme.

The JBG says a falling criminal caseload is making it more difficult for the courts to make the best use of its resources and is hampering the experience of magistrates.

"The division of business within three LJAs in the county means that the work has to be organised, not according to efficiency and the needs of individual cases, but by the LJA boundaries. Falling caseload has exacerbated this trend," the proposal says.

It also says that there is not enough work for the youth court in South Cambridgeshire to sit more frequently than fortnightly, which causes delays as cases cannot be adjourned for fewer than two weeks, even if less time is needed.

However the report adds that the merger should not be seen as a precursor to court closures - but it would allow further flexibility in rotas and improve competence of magistrates, giving them more experience of covering a variety of cases.

But it would also mean some magistrates and users - barristers, defendants and witnesses - will have to travel further to get to court, incurring more expense.

An HM Courts spokesman said: "The reasons for the merger is to improve the effective delivery of justice by improving flexibility in dealing with cases, to make better use of reduced resources; and to increase the opportunities for magistrates to retain experience and thus competence.

"It also looks to address the significant reduction in magistrates' sittings with a falling criminal caseload and rising family caseload."

The spokesman added that changes to listings, where users would have to travel to different courts, would be subject to a separate consultation.

INFORMATION: The consultation closes on July 8. For details email southeastrsu@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.