Dispute over future of Tyneside court set to rumble on for four years

The future of Newcastle Magistrates' Court remains unclear despite the court service carrying out "urgent maintenance work" on danger cells

Solicitor Lewis Pearson
Solicitor Lewis Pearson

A dispute over the future of a North East court could take as long as four years to be fully resolved, it was claimed last night.

Officials from HM Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) confirmed they had carried out “urgent maintenance work” on eight cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court.

It followed fierce criticism from politicians and solicitors earlier this month after it emerged the cells had been condemned as a fire hazard. Labour peer Lord Jeremy Beecham 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.

Now court officials have said they plan to re-open the cells on June 2 after a number of holding rooms - which are part of the adjacent Northumbria Police station - were refurbished.

Solicitor Lewis Pearson said the upgrading of the cells represented a “medium-term” solution but claimed it could take as long as four years for a full decision on the court to be made.

He said the imminent relocation of Northumbria Police’s station to Forth Banks meant there was still a decision to be made over the court’s long-term future.

Mr Pearson said: “We are very grateful to The Journal and Jeremy Beecham for bringing this to the attention of the public. Obviously it would be good for everyone if the cells were up to scratch. However this is far better for people who need access to the court that they can be accommodated.”

Cells at the Market Lane building were condemned as a fire risk in December with staff and legal teams across the North East told they would temporarily close for a major upgrade.

It was claimed the site – which is part of the Northumbria Police station being replaced by a new building at nearby Forth Banks – needs a refurbishment worth more than £100,000.

All Newcastle defendants held on remand were being transferred to the court at North Tyneside as officials work to upgrade the cells in Newcastle.

It meant defendants from rural areas such as Hexham are facing a 30-mile trek across the North East to make court appearances after ministers closed Tynedale Magistrates’ Court in 2011.

However in a letter circulated to legal teams on Tyneside this week, the court service said: “We are working with GEOAmey for eight cells to be brought back into use.”

Lord Beecham said: “I was told the cells were ready from May 14, why is there a further delay in opening the cells?” A HMCTS spokesman said: “Urgent maintenance works have now been completed by Northumbria Police and HM Courts & Tribunals Service intends to resume using eight cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court from Monday 2 June, 2014.

“Until then 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.”


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