After years of campaigning for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice, Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, and Julie Elliott, Labour Member of Parliament for Sunderland Central, have secured a pledge from Courts and Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald that the Ministry of Justice is ‘actively working on the issue and will have a clear direction by the end of March next year’.
The Minister issued the pledge during a meeting with the two Sunderland MPs on 29 November 2016 – a meeting that only took place thanks to the dogged campaigning by Ms Phillipson. Over the last six years, Bridget has tabled over 30 written and oral parliamentary questions on the courts rebuild to the Ministry of Justice. After years of deflection from successive ministers, Justice Secretary Liz Truss finally promised Bridget a meeting with the Courts Minister during Justice Questions on 1 November 2016. Despite this, Ms Phillipson was forced to table a further written parliamentary question to press the Ministry to make the necessary arrangements.
Bridget and Julie have been campaigning on this issue since the Houghton Magistrates Court was closed in 2011 on the understanding that a new modern courts complex was to be built in Sunderland. Despite spending £2million of taxpayer money buying land and drawing up plans for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice at Farringdon Row, to date no decision has yet been taken on the rebuild.
Constituents in Houghton and Sunderland South and Sunderland Central currently only have access to the crumbling Sunderland Magistrates Court, which is over 100 years old and no longer fit for purpose.
Speaking after the meeting with Sir Oliver Heald on 29 November 2016, Bridget Phillipson MP said:
“I am delighted that progress is finally being made on the new Sunderland Centre for Justice after so much delay. The Courts Minister confirmed to Julie Elliott MP and I that his Department is actively working on this issue and will have a clear direction by the end of March 2017.
“I know that many people in my constituency and the Sunderland area will be pleased to hear the government issue this timetable commitment. The current court facilities in the city are simply not fit for either crime victims or court staff.
“The people of Sunderland deserve better, which is why Julie Elliott and I have campaigned so hard over the last six years for the new courts complex that we so desperately need.
“I hope that the Ministry of Justice will now make a swift decision on the rebuild before the March deadline.
“However, constituents should be assured that we will continue to campaign on this issue to ensure that the government does not try to dodge or delay this decision again.
 Bridget Phillipson MP to Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, Hansard, House of Commons, Volume 616, Justice Questions – Topical Questions, 1 November 2016.
 Hansard, House of Commons, ‘Courts: Sunderland: Written Question – 53242’, answered on 21 November 2016.
 'Government decision on Sunderland Court Complex to be made by end of March', Sunderland Echo, 1 December 2016.