Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court will be moving to a new home later this year.
In a move aimed at modernising the service and maximising efficiency in the city council’s property portfolio.
Since the 1950s, the coroner’s office has been based on Hartshill Road, in Hartshill, in a building that originally started its life as a police station, with accommodation and working space for officers and cells downstairs. However, the coroner’s service and its staff have outgrown the building, with its layout making it difficult to meet growing casework demands.
Now, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council – which are responsible for overseeing the coroner’s court – have agreed to move the service to Stoke Town Hall, a decision that has been welcomed by the coroner as a “superb opportunity”.
Previously, jury inquests had to be held at Hanley Town Hall as the court room at Hartshill – a former garage for police cars – was not big enough. The move will bring the service under one roof, and provide a choice of two courtrooms, with the existing Council Chamber in the Town Hall being made available for larger inquests. It will also mean the coroner and his team can take advantage of better IT equipment, including the full use of technology in the court room such as viewing evidence on screens, video conferencing with witnesses and better recording facilities. There will also be more private space for staff to speak to bereaved families.
Andrew Barkley, HM Senior Coroner for Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, said: “The move to Stoke Town Hall is a superb opportunity to modernise the coroner’s service in this area. The opportunity to hold larger inquests or jury inquests in the Council Chamber and remain in touch with the office is crucial.
“The new arrangements will allow the full use of technology in the court room – which we didn’t have at Hartshill and Hanley Town Hall – and for the first time, we will have access to two court rooms to improve our timeliness for the bereaved families.
“One of the main drivers for the move other than the lack of space for staff is that the new accommodation will allow the service to offer private space for staff to speak to bereaved families, facilities for legal teams to meet with their clients and waiting areas for families attending inquests at a distance from the office accommodation. It is essential to remember that families and loved ones of the deceased are coming into contact with our service at their most vulnerable time and appropriate and respectful facilities are essential.”
The full move is expected to be completed this autumn. Between now and then, some inquests will be taking place in Stoke Town Hall as part of the transition process. The building in Hartshill is currently being advertised for rent, with some viewings having already taken place. The council will receive a financial income from renting the building out, which will be reinvested into frontline services.
Councillor Randy Conteh, cabinet member for communities and safer city, with responsibility for the coroner’s service, said: “The current accommodation for the coroner’s court at Hartshill is no longer fit-for-purpose for the services provided by the staff. The majority of people who come into contact with the coroner’s service do so at a very sensitive and difficult time of their life, and it’s imperative we have a suitable environment and facilities not just for them, but also for the coroner and his staff and anyone else who comes into contact with the service. We have worked closely with the coroner to make sure the new home meets his requirements and I firmly believe the switch will allow him and his staff to continue to provide the highest standard of service to the people of North Staffordshire.”
Councillor Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, heritage and infrastructure, said: “At a time when public services are operating in a difficult financial climate, it’s imperative we make sure we are getting the best value for money from our assets for the taxpayer. This move is positive on two fronts – not only does it give the coroner’s service more modern facilities to perform their excellent work, it also provides the council with a financial return as we rent out the building in Hartshill. Last year we completed a major £1.5 million programme of works to refurbish Stoke Town Hall, and having the coroner based there gives the historic building another purpose, which is really important.”