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Behind the scenes at the refurbished Sunderland Magistrates' Court

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Here is a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes at Sunderland Magistrates' Court as the Echo is given special access in areas that are usually no-go zones.

As tribunals and county court are integrated into building, a 12-week refurbishment was carried out to upgrade the site.

Inside Sunderland Magistrates Court

Inside Sunderland Magistrates Court

The work marked the start of a £5.7million investment to upgrade and develop the existing court over the next decade after plans to build a multi-million pound justice centre in Sunderland were scrapped earlier this year.

As part of the transformation, the court has integrated Sunderland Hylton Park Tribunal Centre and Sunderland County Court, meaning these cases will be heard at the courthouse.

During the 12-week refurbishment, two hearing rooms have been upgraded and former office space has been converted to create a third hearing room.

Users of civil and family courts will be separated from users of the Magistrates’ Crime Court to increase privacy and comfort of those attending.

Front from left chairman of the bench John Scott MBE JP, court cluster manager Allison Cook and operations manager Christine Robson. Back, HMCT's Ronnie Toaduff, Gary Robson and Steve Robinson

Front from left chairman of the bench John Scott MBE JP, court cluster manager Allison Cook and operations manager Christine Robson. Back, HMCT's Ronnie Toaduff, Gary Robson and Steve Robinson

A new social security and child support suite and a new accessible entrance and exit have also been added.

Allison Cook, cluster manager covering Berwick to Teesside, said: "We've invested to create a tribunals hearing rooms, an additional tribunals hearing room plus accessible entrance and medical room, and two district judge hearing rooms as well within the building.

"So this building is now multi-jurisdictional housing tribunals, county court, family work as well as magistrates court work."

She added: "The other hearing rooms created on this floor were created in about 1970 so really needed modernisation and movable furniture to allow for multi-jurisdictional use as well.

Chairman of the bench John Scott MBE JP and court cluster manager Allison Cook in court one

Chairman of the bench John Scott MBE JP and court cluster manager Allison Cook in court one

"We've really modernised and used the best that we have in here - the best available space that we have to create the separation of waiting areas and the hearing rooms with the chambers."

The court, which originally opened in 1907, now has around 25 members of staff working at the site covering criminal, tribunals and county court.

Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson and her Sunderland Central colleague Julie Elliott had campaigned for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice to replace the city's ageing magistrates' court building for years.

But in July a decision was made to scrap the new build as an assessment by HM Courts & Tribunals Service Property Board concluded that investment in the Magistrates’ Court is considered to be more feasible than a new build option.

New signage has been put up outside the court rooms

New signage has been put up outside the court rooms

During the refurbishment, which took around three months from start to finish, a new medical room has also been added to the site.

Christine Robson, operations manager at the court, said: "Before this was put in the nearest medical examination rooms for tribunals was in Manor View House in Newcastle.

"We created one in Teesside Justice Centre a couple of years ago when we moved Sunderland tribunals here but they're the only two in this area now that Hylton Park shut down.

"Had we not been able to do this, people who have to travel further afield."

During the work, areas of the building were sectioned off to minimise disruption to court sittings and hearings which went ahead as usual.

Admin staff, legal advisors and magistrates worked throughout the refurbishment work and 705 cases were heard.

Allison Cook in court room one

Allison Cook in court room one

One of the refurbished rooms

One of the refurbished rooms