- Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl’s offer to temporarily loan the former magistrates’ court in Cirencester back to the Ministry of Justice has been accepted
- Mr. Surl welcomed today’s announcement after suggesting the idea in April
- Cases have more than doubled in Gloucestershire during the pandemic with more than 1,000 currently outstanding
- “Behind those 1,000 cases there are more than 1,000 victims, witnesses and defendants with a court appearance hanging over their heads”, said Mr. Surl
- It’s expected the first cases in the new ‘Nightingale Court’ will be heard early in the New Year
Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl today welcomed the Ministry of Justice announcement that it has agreed to adopt the former magistrates’ court in Cirencester as a ‘Nightingale Court’.
Cirencester Mags’ Court reopens as a #NightingaleCourt in the coming weeks after Gloucestershire's Independent Police & Crime Commissioner’s @GlosPCC commitment to fix the building & make it safe for users. This brings the total of phase 1 & 2 #NightingaleCourts to 17 @glos_opcc
— HMCTS (@HMCTSgovuk) December 1, 2020
There are now over 1,000 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 stretches into seven figures.
Cirencester will be used as a Magistrates Court and to hear Crown Court trials.
Mr. Surl, who is also chair of Gloucestershire’s Criminal Justice Board, said it was good news at last for the many hundreds of victims, witnesses and defendants awaiting justice.
The PCC offered use of the building, which also doubled as a crown court, to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in April.
Work is now underway to bring it back into full working order. When that is complete, it is expected the first hearings will take place in January 2021.
“Coronavirus has brought our only remaining courts to their knees”
Mr. Surl said, “I am delighted the Ministry and my office have been able to reach an agreement on sharing the relatively minor maintenance costs so that we can concentrate on delivering local justice.
“Be in no doubt, coronavirus has brought our only remaining courts to their knees.
“The magistrate’s court in Cheltenham has been unable to function fully and without the first rung in the justice ladder, little can go to the crown court. Waiting lists are already higher than they’ve ever been and according to worst-case scenarios, it could be at least 2022 before they catch up.
“It has taken a huge amount of effort and persistence to get to this stage. I was critical of the Ministry for not being able to tie this up and get the court back into action much sooner but that is history now and I am glad the building can be put to good use”.
Cirencester Court adjoins the town’s police station and operated as both a magistrates’ court and reserve crown court until it was axed by the HMCTS in a cull of local courts in 2012. It was acquired by the PCC to protect the integrity of the police estate.
It now becomes the latest temporary ‘Nightingale Court’ announced by the Lord Chancellor as part of the Ministry’s plans to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system.
- Gloucestershire has just two remaining criminal courts and neither complies with equality legislation relating to people with disabilities
- Gloucester Crown Court is a listed building and cannot be modified to accommodate current social distancing regulations
- Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl offered Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS) free use of the former Cirencester Court seven months ago to help ease the backlog.