A former magistrates court in Gloucestershire has reopened as a 'Nightingale Court' to help ease a backlog of more than 1,300 criminal cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The first series of appeals in almost a decade were heard at Cirencester's temporary courthouse on Monday (25 January), with the first trial scheduled to be held in a fortnight.
It was closed down in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice as part of a closure programme which saw several local courts axed.
When the Covid pandemic hit, Gloucestershire's Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl offered the building to HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to help ease a growing backlog of criminal cases.
After several delays, Mr Surl reached an agreement with the Government just before Christmas - and there are now more than 1,300 criminal cases outstanding.
"It means there are more than 1,000 victims, witnesses and defendants with a court appearance hanging over their heads," Mr Surl said.
It is believed the number has "more than doubled" since the start of the health crisis, which court officials say "risks damaging the legal system for years to come."
A mixture of crown, magistrates and family court hearings will take place at the newly re-opened Nightingale court, which is newest temporary site to open across the UK.
Mr Surl, who is also chair of Gloucestershire’s Criminal Justice Board, said: "Reaching an agreement with the Ministry took much longer than I would have wanted but the important thing is that the building is ready to start functioning as a court again.
"I have talked about the threat to local justice many times. Covid has merely highlighted the deficiencies of our two remaining courts and brought them into even sharper focus.
"As a listed building, Gloucester Crown Court is outdated. Like Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court, it is inaccessible to people with disabilities and both contravene current legislation. Waiting lists have now reached a new high and according to worst-case scenarios, it could be at least 2022 before they catch up.
"Getting Cirencester open again, however, is good news for the hundreds of victims, witnesses and defendants who have had a case hanging over them for far too long".