THE former North West Surrey Magistrates’ building in Woking opened as a dedicated Coroner’s Court last week.
Bought by Surrey County Council from the central Department for Communities and Local Government late in 2013, the new complex is designed to better serve the needs of families who have been bereaved.
With changes in law requiring more inquests to be heard by a jury, Surrey Coroner Richard Travers and his staff have been struggling to locate space and the appropriate facilities to meet their statutory obligations.
The Coroner’s Court on Station Approach will now bring Mr Travers and his team of officers under one roof for the first time, the new centre comprising two courtrooms for jury inquests and a third for non-jury hearings.
State-of-the-art video links mean witnesses can give evidence remotely from any part of the UK or abroad, while a dedicated ‘remote witness room’ within the complex will allow vulnerable people to give evidence without physically having to be in the courtroom. Private family facilities and meeting rooms have also been created to suit the needs of those who have lost loved ones.
County Councillor Will Forster told the News & Mail: “I am pleased the new coroner’s facility has finally opened. Following the closure of the Magistrates’ Court in 2010, I pushed the council to buy the site to take control of the complex.
“They already owned the small coroner’s court next door, so I am pleased that this has at long last come to fruition. Bringing the Coroner’s service under one roof will improve its efficiency.
“The courtrooms will also be available for neighbouring local authorities to hire when not in use, bringing additional income that can be reinvested.”
County Cllr Saj Hussain added: “I am relieved to see the Coroner’s Court has finally been opened, as the building had been mothballed for the last four years or so. It will benefit the people of Woking, because instead of them having to travel further afield, they will find local facilities tailor-made for those in distress.”
A total of 17 staff previously at Woking Police Station will also be operating from an office at the centre. Head of the Major Crime Team, Detective Superintendent Nick May, said: “This is a significant improvement. Importantly, it will be better for families attending inquests and witnesses giving evidence.”
Mr Travers will be able to hold jury inquests at the centre instead of having to hire alternative venues, and it is hoped this will generate savings for taxpayers.
Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Community Services, Helyn Clack , said: “The complex will provide a professional environment for those who have lost family or friends, at a very difficult time for them.
“Bringing the Coroner and police under one roof will make the service more efficient and save taxpayers thousands, so we can plough money back into the service and further cut costs to taxpayers.”
In December 2010, the Ministry of Justice announced that Woking Magistrates’ Court was to be one of 10 in the South East to close in plans to save £41.5 million. More than 50 magistrates transferred to the Guildford court, 30 went to Staines, and six opted for retirement.