- There are now around 1,000 court cases waiting to be heard in Gloucestershire
- Cases have been piling-up since the Coronavirus outbreak began and are now double the number at the start of the pandemic
- 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 the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) free use of the former Cirencester Court building five months ago to help ease the backlog
There are now around 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.
And yet an offer that could have eased the backlog remained in limbo for five months.
The Lord Chancellor has just announced the former magistrates’ court in Cirencester as one of eight additional ‘Nightingale Courts’ as part of plans to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system.
But Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl, who is also chair of Gloucestershire’s Criminal Justice Board, offered Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) which runs the country’s courts, free use of the building in May.
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 and would only need updated IT for it to function as a court once more.
Despite regular reminders and requests for an answer, and with bureaucracy taking precedence over practicality, progress has been painfully slow.
The PCC today (Tuesday) welcomed the announcement even though there had been no prior confirmation through his office.
Mr. Surl said, “Our courts are on their knees, struggling to cope with Covid, and the speed of the response has been lamentable.
“There’s been lots of noise from the Ministry about creating temporary Nightingale Courts to try and tackle the backlog. I offered them a ready-made building in May and it could have been operating months ago.
“We have a magistrate’s court in Cheltenham that’s been unable to function fully and without a magistrate’s court, little goes to the crown court so waiting lists are already higher than they’ve ever been. According to some estimates, it could be at least 2022 before they catch up.
“Behind those 1,000 cases there are more than 1,000 victims, witnesses and defendants with a court appearance hanging over their heads.
“I saw a problem and offered a solution. No-one else locally came up with any alternative. It’s been a huge amount to effort to get to this stage and my office has worked tirelessly on it. In fact, I feel the OPCC has come to the rescue of justice in Gloucestershire.
“HMCTS appear to have got there in the end but I‘m disappoint it’s taken them so long.”