Inside new justice building

By Rebecca SheppardWITH metal panels that capture the changing patterns of the light, huge glass windows, sleek wood and light walls, the region's newest court is pushing justice firmly into the 21st Century.

By Rebecca Sheppard

WITH metal panels that capture the changing patterns of the light, huge glass windows, sleek wood and light walls, the region's newest court is pushing justice firmly into the 21st Century.

The distinctive state-of-the-art building, which has cost £14million, will replace the tired Ipswich Crown Court in Civic Drive from June 7.

And yesterday the finishing touches were being made to the modern structure in Russell Road, Ipswich, that has been designed to make the experience of attending court as easy as possible.

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Ross Taylor, court manager, said: "Any court user is in an amount of stress and it is our duty to make it as comfortable as we can, whether it be for a defendant, juror or witness."

He added: "It's very exciting what we are actually able to offer court users in Suffolk now. The old court was opened in 1968, but it was only a crown court from 1972, so it's been 32 years since we had new facilities."

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The light and airy building has commanding views over the bustling traffic of one of the newest parts of the town and is designed to be appropriately imposing for the justice being carried out within its walls.

With its hi-tech facilities, the court is constructed for the future, opening up the possibility for more serious cases, such as the trial of terrorists, to be brought to its rooms rather than being transferred to London.

With five courts and a conference room, the justice being served by the building is also likely to be more efficient, as cases can be dealt with swifter.

Defendants in custody would await their courtroom appearances in the seven single cells or the three group cells, giving more room than in the old courts should the police have had a busy operation overnight.

Mr Taylor said: "The décor is very nice at the present time and I would like to keep it this way. I think it's better asking the staff, but from the reports I get, the conditions in the cells at the current crown court are cramped and difficult to operate in."

He added: "The walls are built to Home Office standards and there are Home Office locks, so it's very secure. We can't take the risk of someone getting out of here and being a danger to the public."

Prisoners can be driven right into the courthouse building, with the doors closing behind the van, creating an airlock, before they are unloaded, replacing the non-secure area of the courtyard.

Each court has its own suite of rooms, including a video link room and witness waiting rooms, where people can be segregated to avoid the tainting of evidence.

The better facilities are likely to bring more cases to the courts that involve vulnerable or intimidated witnesses as they can be brought through a route that avoids public spaces as much as possible and anyone they should not meet.

In court one there is a secure dock with a series of thick glass screens up to the ceiling.

Mr Taylor said: "It's about getting the right balance to protect the court users and give the defendant a fair trial."

The other courts have semi-secure docks, with screens that run to about a third of the height and a moat so defendants are forced to step down if they try to proceed into the main court area.

With microphones, infra-red loops for the hard of hearing, computers for the court clerks and the judges and televisions providing video links, the courts are bursting with technology.

And the whole court building works like a night storage heater, pushing through fresh air that has been stored up on cool summer nights.

Staff at the Civic Drive site left their old premises yesterday and will move to the new building next week.

The project, which was first put forward eight years ago, has been funded through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with Modern Courts (East Anglia) Ltd.

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