Thirty Nightingale Court rooms are to be extended until March next year as the government continues in its efforts to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system and secure speedier justice for victims.
During the pandemic, sports arenas, hotels, and conference centres were rapidly transformed into court rooms to provide more space for jury trials when social distancing was in place.
The continued use of some of these Nightingale Courts in areas such as the South East, London and the Midlands will help drive court recovery and reduce delays.
Justice Minister, James Cartlidge, said:
Nightingale Courts continue to be a valuable weapon in the fight against the pandemic’s unprecedented impact on our courts providing temporary extra capacity.
Combined with other measures – such as removing the cap on Crown Court sitting days, more use of remote hearings, and increasing magistrate sentencing powers – we are beginning to see the backlog drop so victims can get the speedier justice they deserve.
Todays’ (3 March 2022) announcement builds on the significant action taken since the start of the pandemic to drive court recovery including:
- Legislating to double the sentencing powers available to magistrates from 6 months to a year to free up an estimated 2,000 extra days of Crown Court sitting time each year.
- Investing a quarter of a billion pounds to support recovery in the courts in the last financial year – plus over £50 million for victims and support services.
- Ensuring there is no limit on the number of sitting days in the Crown Court this year.
- Creating 2 ‘super courtrooms’ which can accommodate up to 12 defendants; increasing capacity for large trials.
- Opening 3,265 Cloud Video Platform virtual court rooms across all jurisdictions. These currently hold around 13,600 hearings per week using audio and/or video hearings.
The impact of these measures, alongside the re-opening of 60 Crown courtrooms since the peak of the virus, is already being seen. The latest figures show that in December 2021 the crown court backlog dropped to under 59,000. This is a fall of over 2,000 since its peak in June 2021. Meanwhile, in the magistrates’ courts, the outstanding criminal caseload has dropped by almost 70,000 cases since its peak in July 2021.
In places such as the North West where the number of outstanding cases has dropped significantly in recent months, the majority of the temporary courts are no longer needed and will wind down at the end of March 2021.
Following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, courtroom capacity has returned to pre-pandemic levels.