- Gloucestershire County Council’s Police and Crime Panel will ask Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk, who is also Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, to get behind plans for a new justice centre
- Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl first raised the issue of the county’s failing court buildings in 2017
- It is the first indication of local authority support for the PCC following his report highlighting:
- The court system in Gloucestershire is broken
- Massive delays mean victims seeing justice delayed or denied
- Stress on staff and public forced to use outdated facilities that are no longer fit for purpose
- Both existing courts are non-compliant with the Disabilities Act
- The PCC has offered a site on which to build a new court building and members of the panel voted unanimously to seek the Cheltenham MP’s support.
It has been a long time coming but Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl has a new ally in his campaign for a new justice centre for Gloucestershire.
The county council’s influential Police and Crime Panel, agreed unanimously to write to Cheltenham MP and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice Alex Chalk asking for his support.
The move came during the latest meeting in which the panel holds the PCC to account. It followed a discussion on Mr. Surl’s Annual Report, which includes a 14-page report ‘Court Provision in Gloucestershire and the offer of land on the outskirts of Gloucester on which to build a new justice centre.
Mr. Surl told the panel he had raised the county’s failing courts with both the Justice Minister Robert Buckland and Secretary of State Chris Philp, but there had been little interest from the county’s six MPs.
In an emotional speech, the PCC, who is also chair of the Gloucestershire Criminal Justice Board, told the panel, “If we do nothing, mark my words we won’t have a court system in Gloucestershire. It will all be in Bristol.
“I don’t mind where the court goes; anywhere that is accessible is acceptable to me. I’m just trying to be helpful. Waterwells has great transport links and IT connectivity and, as the government likes to say, is ‘shovel ready’. But, if someone can come up with another location, I will get behind it, but that would likely cost more money.
“If this county does not get behind this, or take it off me, we will get nothing. There is a billion pounds of funding out there to modernise the court system. We can talk about it; we can argue about it or we can say our courts are rubbish, our waiting lists are rubbish and we can actually fight as one to get a new court.
“But I am sick to death of arguing. A bit disappointed the MPs don’t reply to my letters – let’s forgive them, they’re very busy people, I’m sure it’s an error – but we need to do this
“I will do my bit to offer the land at a reasonable price, not for profit, to keep it in the public domain so we don’t have to buy it off the private sector. But I can’t keep it much longer if we carry on like this”.
Gloucestershire has lost five courthouses since 2010 when Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) began a national reform programme. Local justice is now administered by a Magistrates’ Court in Cheltenham, a Crown Court in Gloucester and a combined Civil and Family Court also in the city.
The report, compiled by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) is based on Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data. It notes that Gloucestershire is one of only six counties in the UK to have just one magistrates’ court and has one of the lowest number of courts per population compared to most demographically-similar areas. https://www.gloucestershire-pcc.gov.uk/reports/