Plans to re-open the cells at a North East court have suffered another setback.
Officials from HM Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) confirmed last month that they had carried out “urgent maintenance work” on eight cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court and that they would be back in use from June 2.
But the future of the court was yet again called into question last night after it was revealed there had been a further delay in the re-opening, despite holding rooms - which are part of the adjacent Northumbria Police station - being refurbished.
A letter sent to city solicitors said HMCTS was “in negotiations” with police about the re-opening and the situation would be reviewed at the end of the month.
The move has staggered Labour peer Lord Jeremy Beecham, who previously tabled an urgent question in the House of Lords demanding to know what action had been taken to bring the court back into full service.
Last night Lord Beecham said he hoped to speak to Justice Minister Lord Edward Faulks about the situation on Monday.
Lord Beecham, the shadow justice minister in the Lords and a long-time solicitor in Newcastle, said: “There has been a letter received, which says the opening of the cells has been deferred until at least June 30, while negotiations with police are ongoing.
“What I don’t understand is, what are the purpose of these negotiations and why can’t the cells be open in the mean time?
“I’m hoping to talk to Lord Edward Faulks on Monday. The situation is ridiculous.”
The delay has cast further doubt over the future of the court. The imminent relocation of Northumbria Police’s station to Forth Banks means there is still a decision to be made over the court’s long-term future.
Solicitor Lewis Pearson said the administration of justice was being affected without the court being in full working order.
He said: “Negotiations are ongoing, apparently. Everyone is extremely worried there’s insufficient urgency to get these cells reopened.
“They’re physically able to be re-opened and the necessary reports have been carried out. Administrative difficulties shouldn’t stand in the way of the administration of justice. They plan to review the situation at the end of the month.”
The cells were closed in December after they were condemned as a fire risk and all Newcastle defendants held on remand were being transferred to the court at North Tyneside.
It meant those living in Hexham faced a 30-mile journey following the closure of Tynedale Magistrates’ Court in 2011.
A spokesperson for HMCTS spokesperson said: “The cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court are owned by the police, but used by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. We intend to resume using eight of the cells as soon as possible, however negotiations with the police regarding their continued use are ongoing.
“In the meantime, HM Courts & Tribunals Service will continue to run a daily remand court at North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court and list custody trials across the remainder of the estate in Northumbria.”