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Gloucestershire court reopens to help clear Covid case backlog

With a record 1,000 criminal cases waiting to be heard in Gloucestershire, the former magistrates court at Cirencester is to be taken out of mothballs to help clear the massive backlog caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Lord Chancellor has announced today that the Cirencester courthouse will be one of eight 'Nightingale courts' opened nationally to tackle the problem.

The waiting list for cases in Gloucestershire has doubled during the Pandemic and the situation nationally is thought to be much the same.

But Gloucestershire's Police and Crime Commissioner, Martin Surl, says action could have been taken much sooner and the delay has been 'lamentable.'

He said he offered the free use of the Cirencester building and facilities to Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service in May this year and he is concerned that it has remained in limbo since then without his offer being taken up.

Cirencester Court adjoins the town's police station and has operated as both a magistrates' court and a reserve crown court until it was axed by the HMCTS in a cull of local courts in 2012.

It was acquired by the Commissioner at that time 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," said a spokesman for Mr Surl today.

He said Mr Surl welcomed today's Nightingale Courts announcement - even though there had been no prior confirmation through his office.

"Our courts are on their knees, struggling to cope with Covid, and the speed of the response has been lamentable," said Mr Surl.

"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 magistrates court in Cheltenham that's been unable to function fully - and without a magistrates 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 of effort to get to this stage and my office has worked tirelessly on it. In fact, I feel the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has come to the rescue of justice in Gloucestershire.

"HMCTS appear to have got there in the end but I'm disappointed it's taken them so long."

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