19 Jul Coronavirus: Emergency ‘Nightingale courts’ to help clear huge backlog of cases | UK News
Ten emergency “Nightingale courts” are being set up to help work through thousands of cases that were held up by the coronavirus lockdown.
They will hear non-custodial crime cases, as well as tribunals and family and civil matters.
Magistrates’ courts in England and Wales had a backlog of around 480,000 cases last month, while Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures also showed crown courts had about 41,000 cases built up.
More than 400 murders and 3,000 rapes were outstanding across the courts system when the prime minister announced the lockdown at the end of March, as well as more than 2,400 robbery cases.
Labour has called the serious crime backlog “wholly avoidable” and said the government “owes every victim an apology”.
The MoJ said the new courts would allow existing courts to hear serious jury trials – which paused when the lockdown started.
Nine in 10 trials have been using remote technology to continue making progress.
Some jury trials started again in May, but Justice Secretary Robert Buckland warned the backlog would continue into 2021.
Mr Buckland said the new courts would reduce delays and deliver “speedier justice for victims”.
“But we won’t stop there,” he said. “Together with the judiciary, courts staff and legal sector, I am determined that we must pursue every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible.”
James Mulholland QC, vice chair of the Criminal Bar Association, told Sky News the backlog was nothing new and something the criminal bar has been dealing with for many years.
“It’s not the consequence of the pandemic at all,” he said.
“The government has deliberately chosen to increase the time period between the commission of an alleged offence and its completion by reducing the number of court sitting dates – by preventing courts from actually utilising court rooms and judges.”
He said that rape cases, for example, were now taking on average of over three years to go from allegation to conclusion of trial.
Mr Mulholland added: “We’re dealing with some of the most vulnerable individuals in society here and they’re being ignored because government just does not have a strategy for the criminal justice system other than cutting costs.”
One of the new “Nightingale courts” – in Chichester, West Sussex – is expected to hear cases next week and all 10 locations are hoping to be up and running next month, said the MoJ.
The locations are:
– Former county court in Telford, Shropshire
– Hertfordshire Development Centre, Stevenage
– Swansea Council Chambers, Swansea
– Cloth Hall Court, Leeds
– Middlesbrough Town Hall, Teesside
– East Pallant House, Chichester
– 102 Petty France, London
– Prospero House, London
– Former magistrates’ court in Fleetwood, Lancashire
– Knights’ Chamber and Visitor Centre, Bishop’s Palace, Peterborough Cathedral