Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Evidence submitted by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA)

  This paper responds to the Constitutional Affairs Committee's request for information as part of their Supreme Court/Middlesex Guildhall Inquiry.

    —    Section 1: Background;

    —    Section 2: Building selection;

    —    Section 3: Refurbishing Middlesex Guildhall;

    —    Section 4: Timetable for refurbishment; and

    —    Section 5: Maintaining the number of sitting days in London following the closure of the crown courts at Middlesex Guildhall.

SECTION 1: BACKGROUND

  1.1  Establishing a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom separate from the House of Lords will increase the transparency of the separation of powers and responsibilities between the executive (Government), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (judges).

  1.2  At present the final court of appeal is the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The UK Supreme Court will be an independent institution that replaces the Appellate Committee. It will:

    —    hear appeals on arguable points of law of general public importance;

    —    act as the final court of appeal for civil cases in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland;

    —    act as the final court of appeal for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and

    —    assume the devolution jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), while the Commonwealth jurisdiction of the JCPC will remain unchanged.

  1.3  Providing the Court with its own building is a physical demonstration of the separation between the judiciary and the legislature. It also allows members of the public to have greater access to the Court compared to its current location in the House of Lords.

  1.4  Establishing the UK Supreme Court at Middlesex Guildhall offers an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate an historic London building and will allow the Supreme Court to sit comfortably in a location befitting an organisation of this calibre.

  1.5  Sitting opposite the Houses of Parliament and alongside Westminster Abbey and the Treasury Building, the location will symbolise the Supreme Court as a cornerstone of our constitution rights in this country.

  1.6  There is no criticism of the quality of the justice dispensed by the Appellate Committee and so the focus of the Supreme Court Programme is to deliver an appropriate setting for what will be one of the most important institutions in our country.

  1.7  We will also take the opportunity to co-locate the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the same building.

SECTION 2: BUILDING SELECTION

  2.1  In 2003 a statement of requirements for the building to house the UK Supreme Court was agreed in conjunction with the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. The headline requirement was for an appropriate building within a one-mile radius of Charing Cross of approximately 3,800 square metres, including three committee rooms, a library and ancillary accommodation for the Justices of the Supreme Court and their support staff. Estate Agent Knight Frank then undertook a property search and evaluation exercise on behalf of the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

  2.2  This initial search generated a long-list of 48 properties but only five of which, after closer scrutiny against a number of criteria (size, operational efficiency, adaptability, and suitability), merited further consideration.

  2.3  The properties concerned were:

    —    Central and Staple Court, WC2—commercial property;

    —    4 Mathew Parker Street, SW1—Crown estate property;

    —    New Wing, Somerset House—Crown estate/commercial property;

    —    Field House, Bream's Buildings EC4—DCA estate property; and

    —    Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square WC1—commercial property.

  2.4  In addition to the five identified buildings, Middlesex Guildhall was also recorded as having met the majority of the evaluation criteria, however the operational impact upon London Criminal Business was felt to be detrimental to its overall desirability.

  2.5  Following discussion between officials and Ministers on 29 October 2003, Field House and 4 Matthew Parker Street were removed from the short list as they were not suitable locations for the new Court and it was agreed to expand the search to within a two mile radius of Charing Cross. The Project Team was also asked to consider new build opportunities; the decision was also taken to re-evaluate the viability of Middlesex Guildhall on the basis of reproviding the criminal courtrooms elsewhere in London.

  2.6  Knight Frank was unable to locate any suitable private sector sites for development within a two mile radius of Charing Cross, reflecting the state of the central London property market. Two potential locations within the DCA London estate, St Dunstan's House and Stewart House were added to the list for consideration.

  2.7  On 5 January 2004, Ministers and officials reconvened to discuss a revised short-list:

    —    Central and Staple Court;

    —    New Wing, Somerset House;

    —    Stewart House (new build);

    —    St Dunstans House, (new build); and

    —    Middlesex Guildhall.

  2.8  It was agreed that a green book style evaluation would be carried out on these properties. Turner and Townsend and Knight Frank evaluated all properties on the short-list with the exception of Somerset House as the relevant enquiries with HM Treasury, Inland Revenue, Somerset House Trust and DCMS were ongoing.

  2.9  Ernst & Young then carried out financial analysis of the short-listed options including consideration of the potential procurement options available, with regard to providing advice to the Project as to the preferred building/procurement option. EC Harris undertook a feasibility study into the technical viability, options, costs and timescales of providing the additional Crown courtrooms and a series of meetings were held with representatives from English Heritage and Westminster Council Planning Authorities on the proposals for renovating the Middlesex Guildhall.

  2.10  Officers and Ministers again considered the short-list in light of the evaluation above and against a number of criteria, including functional suitability, deliverability, prestige and location, and value for money and affordability. The analysis supported Middlesex Guildhall as the "front runner" (based upon lease disposal/leaseback solution).

  2.11  By June 2004 the short-list was down to two properties, Middlesex Guildhall and the new wing of Somerset House. After much discussion and a series of stakeholder events (including a visit to the Guildhall and Somerset House by the Law Lords) Middlesex Guildhall was chosen for four key reasons:

    —    Its location on Parliament Square;

    —    It provides the key design requirements;

    —    It delivers much improved accommodation at a reasonable cost; and

    —    It is an opportunity to ensure the longevity of the building, as its current use would need to be reviewed in the short-term.

SECTION 3: REFURBISHING MIDDLESEX GUILDHALL

  3.1  Renowned conservation architects, Feilden and Mawson, were appointed to develop the renovation plans. We have worked very closely with the Law Lords to define their requirements and with English Heritage and Westminster City Council to ensure that the required works are sympathetic to the building.

  3.2  The changes are to provide an appropriate setting for the new Supreme Court on Parliament Square. The main changes are to level the floors in the courtrooms, create space for a modern law library, reverse recent interventions that have left the building feeling cluttered and improve public access. Most of the building's original features such as the wood panelling and carved wooden bench ends in the historic courtrooms, ornate ceilings, light fittings and fixtures, stained glass and the entire Middlesex Art Collection will remain unchanged. In fact, their appearance will be improved because the renovation will allow more light into the building.

  3.3  The Crown Courts at Middlesex Guildhall do not meet current design standards. The deficiencies include poor facilities for jurors and witnesses, absence of secure circulation routes and in particular the lack of a secure van dock with no realistic prospect of being able to add one, or a safe alternative, in the future. Middlesex Guildhall is the only Crown Court in London without this facility and is within the Government Secure Zone. Greater intervention in the building would be required to solve this problem compared to that which is needed to house the Supreme Court.

  3.4  These issues would have to be addressed in the near future making it impossible to keep the building in aspic. The renovation will assure the longevity and full use of the building.

  3.5  We believe that our plans will bring benefits to the building and to its users.

  3.6  It will provide an opportunity to refresh an historic London building and to guarantee its use for a considerable period of time to house one of the great institutions of state. This is particularly appropriate given its setting on Parliament Square. Whilst breathing new life into the building we will be able to ensure that the building is fitted with appropriate facilities to ensure that it is compliant with all the current standards—most notably to give access to disabled people who might wish to visit.

  3.7  Our plans are heavily influenced by conservation. These plans will make less intensive use of the building than the current use as a Crown Court and will peel back much of the insensitive work that was done to the building in the 1980s when the majority of the current Crown Courts were constructed. In particular we will restore the original lightwells and original layout historic interiors artwork and memorabilia as we possibly can. For example the Middlesex Art Collection is now in the process of being cleaned and will be re-hung in the building once the renovation work is complete.

  3.8  One of the prime drivers behind setting up the Supreme Court is to encourage public access to the highest court in the Land. We will do that by altering the entrance ways and internal circulation spaces, removing clutter where possible.

SECTION 4: TIMETABLE FOR REFURBISHMENT

  4.1  The Supreme Court was planned to open for hearings in October 2009. These plans were drawn up on the assumption that the existing Crown Court would vacate the building at the beginning of April 2007 and renovation would start immediately. This would then allow time for the renovation to complete in February 2009 and allow the new Institution to be delivered ready for October 2009.

  4.2  Since the Judicial Review was lodged by Save in January 2007 we have had to re-assess our plans and the opening date of the Supreme Court is now heavily dependent on the successful granting of "clean & implementable" planning consent. It is because of this urgency that a second planning application—exactly the same in all material senses as the existing one under Judicial Review—was submitted on 9 March 2007.

  4.3  In the meantime we continue to support Westminster City Council as an Interested Party in their defence of the Judicial Review.

SECTION 5: MAINTAINING THE NUMBER OF LONDON CROWN COURT SITTING DAYS

  5.1  The Middlesex Guildhall will close on 30 March 2007 and will be vacated in the first fortnight of April 2007. This date was set and agreed with other criminal justice agencies in 2006 to enable the renovation to start in April 2007.

  5.2  From 1 September 2006, committals from Central London started going to Wood Green. From 1 November 2006 cases that were heard at Middlesex Guildhall are now committed to Southwark. The Crown Courts at Middlesex Guildhall are now focusing on completing work rather than taking on new cases.

  5.3  To fill the gap between the closure of the Crown Courts and the long-term solution (ie new courts at Isleworth) we have implemented transition plans that aim to deliver the same number of sitting days in London following the closure of Middlesex Guildhall.

  5.4  In order to achieve this target, Courts are introducing new ways to increase their utilisation levels eg using non-jury courtrooms where practical and improving Listing practices.

  5.5  However we recognise that this does not provide a long term solution and so we plan to provide an additional five Crown Courts at Isleworth. Following on from an earlier rejection of our planning application our appeal on 18 December for planning permission at Isleworth was granted. We are now in discussions with our preferred construction partner, Geoffrey Osborne, to finalise the arrangements for the construction.

  5.6  Construction of these additional Crown Courts at Isleworth are scheduled to commence in June 2007 and complete in Autumn 2008.

March 2007





 
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