The Judicial Delivery Group is consulting on plans including streamlining overnight and prisoner cases currently heard in six courts across the region, to just two.
The proposals also include centralising applications for Domestic Violence Protection Orders from Humber and South Yorkshire, as well as applications by South Yorkshire local authorities for council tax liability orders, to Doncaster.
A consultation document has been sent to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and defence solicitors and barristers.
It states the proposals aim to ensure the judicial business of the magistrates’ court is conducted ‘effectively and expeditiously’ and in the interests of justice, and that magistrates are able to undertake the appropriate training and receive regular appraisals.
Kathryn Lill, a defence solicitor with Howells, said: “I’m really worried because people who are in custody are often very vulnerable and their families are going to find it very difficult to come to Sheffield to support them when their cases are heard.
“I also think the magistrates’ court is about local justice for local people and this is going to mean some of our cases are dealt with outside of that remit.
“It affects us as a community.”
Nicky Stubbs, a magistrate who sits at Barnsley, said magistrates had signed up to serve their local communities, and the proposals removed the local element of that.
“We’ve got magistrates sitting in Barnsley who have never been to the town before.
“It just doesn’t work it’s not what a lot of magistrates signed up for.
“They signed up to serve their community and bring that local knowledge.
“We don’t live in Sheffield so there is no local context that we can bring to it.
“They are wanting us to travel to different courts. I don’t particularly mind doing that, but a lot of other colleagues are saying they only have a couple of years left. I don’t think they want to do it.”
He said the proposals had the potential to put defence advocates and custody staff out of business, and that new magistrates were being brought in on the premise they didn’t belong to a particular courthouse, but rather the South Yorkshire jurisdiction.
He added: “We deal with some of the most vulnerable people in these communities. “There will be people who have never been to Sheffield in their lives and they’ll be expected to find their way back from Sheffield.
“A lot of people don’t have access to their own transport, their families are expected get on public transport.
“I know some defence advocates in Barnsley who have, out of common human decency, given their clients a lift home because they know if they don’t, they’re probably going to end up in desperate situation.”
A spokesman for Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service said: “The consultation is not proposing closure to Barnsley Magistrates’ Court, but a change to the way overnight cases are heard across the Humber and South Yorkshire.
“No decisions will be made about that until all responses have been carefully considered.”
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “In general terms, I am very unhappy with the way the rationalisation of the courts is happening.
“We are seeing a gradual concentration on fewer and fewer courts across the country and the region.
“People are having to travel greater and greater distances.
“This is making it difficult for all court users, whether offenders, witnesses, victims, advocates, magistrates, the police, the prison service.
“It may save the courts money and time but it adds costs and time for everyone else.
“If the concentration on Sheffield courts continues, trials will be put at risk if witnesses cannot afford to travel, or journeys are long. If trials are adjourned that is especially frustrating.”