THE gavel is coming down on Tavistock Town Council’s meetings in the plush surroundings of the restored Guildhall courtroom as the threat of the covid pandemic recedes.

Councillors voted practically unanimously to turn their backs — in one case literally — on the former magistrates court where local villains used to receive their just deserts at the hands of the beak.

Members of the council, which is a joint partner in the Guildhall visitor centre, felt they didn’t like the chairman or woman of any given meeting sitting on the bench where the magistrates once dispensed justice while the rest were perched on hard wooden pews below in a recess.

Those uncomfortable pews, which were reserved for the legal profession, clerks to the court and other court-room staff, were too much for former mayor Anne Johnson, who chose to sit in the public gallery at the latest council meeting rather than down in the pits with the rest of her colleagues.

Cllr Johnson told the council she was in so much pain that she was forced to move to the ‘ordinary’ seats, although she would rather be with her fellow councillors.

Her decision to move seats came as councillors were discussing whether to return to holding meetings in the council chamber, an option abandoned because of fears over the spread over Covid-19. Councillors decided to meet in the open spaces of the town hall where there was sufficient room to practice social distancing. They also tried nearby Butchers Hall, a great success as an extension of the Pannier Market, but a disastrous venue for meetings as it was too cold for rational thought and the acoustics were so bad nobody can hear what was being said at the other end of the room.

The restored courtroom was chosen rather later as a meeting venue because it also offered plenty of space to stay socially distanced. But with the virus threat diminishing, councillors overwhelmingly felt it was time to get back to the chamber, where staff will be making sure the room will be as covid-proof as it possibly can be.

Development management and licensing chairman Paul Ward had no problem with moving his committee permanently back to the chamber, while budget and policy chairman Harry Smith — though a supporter of using the courtroom — went along similar feelings expressed by his colleagues.

Town mayor Andy Hutton pointed out that while the chamber was made as free of the risk of covid as possible: ‘We can’t get rid of all the risks.’

And Cllr James Ellis added: ‘This is a courtroom and it’s designed to be uncomfortable.’