- Cirencester’s courthouse re-opens for business as the UK’s latest ‘Nightingale Court’ today
- Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl offered the building back to HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in April as a temporary means of reducing the backlog of cases which have more than doubled in Gloucestershire during the pandemic
- The building ceased to operate in 2012 as part of a Ministry of Justice closure programme which saw many of Gloucestershire’s local courts axed
- Mr. Surl said, “With now more than 1,000 cases outstanding, it means there are more than 1,000 victims, witnesses and defendants with a court appearance hanging over their heads”.
Cirencester Courthouse officially re-opens today. The Justices are expected to hear a series of appeals first with the first scheduled trial listed a fortnight later.
The mixture of crown, magistrates and family courts will be the first hearings in almost a decade. The last was in 2012 when the building was axed by the Ministry of Justice as part of a closure programme which saw many of Gloucestershire’s local courts axed.
Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl bought the building, which adjoins the town’s police station, in order to secure the site for the Constabulary.
He offered it back to HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) last April as a temporary means of reducing the backlog of cases caused by Covid.
When little progress was made, Mr. Surl raised the issue directly with Chris Philp, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice and eventually an agreement was reached just before Christmas. Minor maintenance work was completed last week when the court crests were installed and the premises have now been adopted as the country’s newest ‘Nightingale Court’.
Covid has highlighted the deficiencies of our two remaining courts
There are now over 1,300 criminal cases waiting to be heard in Gloucestershire – a record high and a number that has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. Nationally, the estimated waiting list is over half a million and the Chief Inspectors of Prisons, the Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the Crown Prosecution and Probation Services have united to express grave concerns about the long-term impact of the pandemic warning that it risks damaging the legal system for years to come.
Mr. Surl, who is also chair of Gloucestershire’s Criminal Justice Board, said, “Reaching an agreement with the Ministry took much longer than I would have wanted but the important thing is that the building is ready to start functioning as a court again.
“I have talked about the threat to local justice many times. Covid has merely highlighted the deficiencies of our two remaining courts and brought them into even sharper focus.
“As a listed building, Gloucester Crown Court is outdated. Like Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court, it is inaccessible to people with disabilities and both contravene current legislation. Waiting lists have now reached a new high and according to worst-case scenarios, it could be at least 2022 before they catch up.
“Getting Cirencester open again, however, is good news for the hundreds of victims, witnesses and defendants who have had a case hanging over them for far too long”.