Chris Nelson, the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner shines a light on the controversy over the former Cirencester Magistrates Court's potential for use as a Nightingale Court.
Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has been critical of the Ministry of Justice, accusing the Government of being slow to take up his offer of using the old Cirencester Magistrates court building, rent-free, as a Nightingale Court. His office acquired the building in 2012/13 after it closed for court use in 2011, and it has been left empty ever since.
Chris Nelson, the Conservative candidate for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner at the May 2021 election, says: “The building has not been maintained for almost 10 years. The plumbing, heating, ventilation and cells need extensive remedial work, and up-to-date IT and video communications need to be installed to make it fit for purpose.”
“Mr Surl is trying to make political capital out of this issue. He portrays himself as a knight in shining armour, riding to the rescue of the criminal justice system, but the building is more dilapidated than the Ministry of Justice has been led to believe.“
There is a backlog of criminal cases that need to be addressed, caused by the necessary restrictions around the Covid virus. Delays have been caused by the need for social distancing requirements and there is a shortage of safe and suitable buildings to administer justice. The safety of court users is a top priority and other local options for a Nightingale Court in Gloucestershire are being explored. Thanks to the hard work of judges and officials, as well as the introduction of new Nightingale Courts, the caseload in magistrates’ courts around the country continues to fall, despite stories to the contrary.
Chris Nelson adds “The Ministry of Justice is attempting to find buildings nationally that can quickly be converted into Nightingale Courts. Providing a ‘rent-free’ building may seem attractive, but the Cirencester Magistrates Court building has been neglected and is therefore unsuitable. This is gesture politics of the worst kind and is more about attracting media attention for his re-election campaign”.
“Mr Surl is blaming the Ministry of Justice unfairly. His own building is unfit for purpose. It is his responsibility to have kept it maintained or make good use of it. This is not a good result for the residents of Gloucestershire; Mr Surl’s political showboating will encourage the Ministry of Justice to find a more helpful and transparent landlord, possibly outside of the county, forcing court attendees to travel further afield.”
Gloucestershire will elect its Police and Crime Commissioner next May for a period of three years - one year less than the usual four-year period of office, owing to the election being delayed from last May 2020.