Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Minister Chris Philp has stepped into the debate over the need for a new justice centre in Gloucestershire.
In a virtual meeting to discuss the impact of the pandemic on courts, Mr. Philp asked to see proposals put forward by Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl.
“When I raised the state of our courts and our plans for a solution, Mr. Philp was interested in seeing what we have in mind and discussing it further”, said Mr. Surl.
“The pandemic has exposed what everyone involved with our courts already knew, but it’s also given us the chance to work directly with the MoJ from the very beginning and really get things moving.
“Current circumstances have opened people’s eyes to new ways of working. With MoJ support, we have the chance to build a modern justice centre that is socially and technologically up to date and fit for the 21st century”.
A report, commissioned by the PCC and published earlier this year identified the urgent need for a new criminal justice centre in Gloucestershire, describing the current facilities as “demeaning”, “inaccessible” and “substandard”.
The inadequacies of both local courts were evident even before the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, Gloucester Crown Court has been ‘closed’ to all but administrative hearings and all jury trials have transferred to Bristol.
The design of the magistrates’ court in Cheltenham also struggles to accommodate social distancing. Trials that are listed require several courtrooms and as a result, the backlog of hearings continues to grow.
Mr. Surl said, “Even when the Judiciary advises more courts can open and hear more work, our Crown Court will not be able to accommodate any kind of social distancing as the building only has 2 court rooms and very limited waiting space.
“The impact of the virus means it could be a long time before jury trials are heard in Gloucester again. That would be catastrophic for local justice and is a concern shared by retired Judge Jamie Tabor”.
You can download the original report into court provision in Gloucestershire below.Court Provision in Gloucestershire.pdf