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

The town’s court building was closed in 2012 by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) but will open its doors again as a ‘Nightingale Court’ announced by the Ministry of Justice.

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.

The magistrates court is expected to open some time in October, and adjoins the town’s police station and operated as both a magistrates’ court and reserve crown court until it was axed.

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.

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

“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.”