On 26 October, 17 members of The Ipswich Society were shown around the new Crown Court building in Russell Road by Robin Hill, the most informative Customer Services Manager. Having done jury service in the old building a few months ago I was interested to compare the two.
Entry is similar: a search of bags and passing through the "pinger". I asked Reg, one of the security men, if he liked his new surroundings. He shrugged: the job was much the same but the building was big and impersonal. Not impressed, I felt.
The contrast was enormous. A ramp gives disabled access. The entrance and reception hall is vastly high and light, clad inside and out in silver metal, with blond wood balconies and tiled floor. Rows of metal seats all facing one way suggest an airport lounge. Toilets, phones and drinks vending machines are all present, clean and working - a pleasant change from the old building! The Thermadeck heating system consists of a series of concrete planks which retain heat, the whole building being heated by three domestic-sized boilers with temperature controlled at an average 21'C.
There are now five bigger, lighter and better air-conditioned courts, one of them with a glassed-in dock. Outside, a van dock provides much improved security for the custody cel Is. Global Solutions Ltd transports prisoners from Norwich, the nearest jail, while young defendants travel from Warren Hill at Hollesley rather than all the way from Rugby. It was surprising to see less space for visitors (only 12-16 seats in court) and disappointing that the microphone system for barristers, defendant, witness and judge was not entirely satisfactory. The TV link to protect vulnerable witnesses was not working that day either, so there are things still to be sorted out.
The new IT screens should mean there are no longer people wandering about with messages and they make it easier for records to be kept, expenses worked out, etc. Everything is recorded verbatim. Jurors have more room for files and papers and we were told that their waiting area contains food and drink, magazines, TV, radio, cards and games to relieve the sometimes prolonged waiting times. The cafeteria is certainly a huge plus point.
All in all there are many improvements. But will this building, opened officially by Lord Falconer on 15 October 2004, last longer than its predecessor, built as recently as the 1960s? Some of us may be here to find out!
Note: for a virtual tour log on to www.courtservice.gov.uk/ipswich.