COVID-19 – New ‘Nightingale Courts’ in England and Wales
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt everywhere – in businesses across all industries, in the private and public sectors, and in UK courts, where the pandemic exacerbated existing delays. Before COVID struck, some 37,000 cases were waiting to be heard in the crown courts, with nearly 400,000 waiting to be heard in magistrates’ courts.
In recent months, officials have reported a significant backlog mounting behind the scenes, with over half of all courts closed during March, when the lockdown was imposed, and jury trials postponed or delayed in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.
In an effort to help clear this backlog, ten new ‘Nightingale Courts’ are set to be built at sites across England and Wales, all of which will feature a medieval chamber and the Ministry of Justice’s headquarters.
With the first court at East Pallant House in Chichester set to hear cases this week, it is reported that all ten sites should be up and running next month, and all will be equipped to hear civil, family, and tribunals work, as well as non-custodial crime cases which involve jury trials.
Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland commented that the new Nightingale Courts “will help boost capacity across our courts and tribunals – reducing delays and delivering speedier justice for victims.”
Chair of the Criminal Bar Association Caroline Goodwin QC also commented: “These 10 extra court buildings are a start, but just that. Now let’s get serious and open up 50 more buildings and focus on criminal trials.”
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice last month show that magistrates’ courts in the UK faced a backlog of over 480,000 cases at the time of publication, whilst over 41,000 cases had mounted up awaiting hearings at crown courts.
It is anticipated that more public buildings will be transformed into courts as the effort to combat this huge backlog of cases continues. However, Lord Chancellor Buckland also set out measures last week which included extending court opening hours and continuing to see hearing carried out via video call where appropriate.
The new Nightingale Court sites are:
- 102 Petty France, the Ministry of Justice’s London headquarters
- Knights’ Chamber and Visitor Centre, Bishop’s Palace, Peterborough Cathedral
- 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, home of Chichester District Council in Sussex
- Prospero House, London
- Former Magistrates’ Court in Fleetwood, Lancashire
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