Skipton'S County Court, which has been dealing out justice since Victorian times, heard its last cases this week.

From next Thursday, the court will be closed and all its business will move into the magistrates' court further along Otley Road.

Court manager Margaret Henley said it was with a sense of sadness that the staff would leave the building, but they were looking forward to pastures new.

She added it was absolutely the right decision to amalgamate the two courts into the same modern building.

"As we only have a judge sitting six days a month, the courtroom was clearly under utilised. Following talk of closing the magistrates' court, which was also under used, it made sense for the two courts to go into the same building and maximise the use of the court rooms.

"I see it as a positive move. It will give us much better facilities."

The building, which was built in 1847, is perhaps more visually pleasing, but the magistrates' court has the benefits of an indoor toilet for court users, disabled access and two court rooms. It also has a two tier counter for wheelchair users, complete with hearing loop, and a disabled lift.

One of the advantages of having just one court in Skipton, Mrs Henley added, was that visitors will be less likely to get lost. Asking directions to 'the court' has always caused confusion!

Compared to other county courts, Skipton's caseload is small but varied. It deals with all aspects of civil law, for example family work, divorces, children's applications, civil disputes, claims for damages or unpaid invoices.

"Basically, anything which wouldn't fall under criminal law," Mrs Henley explained.

A lot of the work is administrative and does not necessitate a judge, who only gets involved when the case is disputed. A district judge, or a circuit judge, depending on the type of case, sits six days in every month and these sessions are held in open court.

The county court's jurisdiction covers a huge area, but cases are not necessarily heard locally. Some courts specialise in certain cases, for example adoption cases from Craven will be heard at Bradford.

The court employs a bailiff, an usher, Mrs Henley and four administrators. All staff will be transferred to the magistrates' court where they will share some of the facilities, but have separate duties.

The county court will continue to hear cases every Thursday and every other Wednesday and will use court two. It will re-open for business on May 28, and in the meantime cases will be dealt with at Keighley.

The old county court building is to be sold.