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Nightingale courts will remain open to tackle backlog

By Bianca Castro >>

(17 February 2023)

Nightingale courtrooms will be kept open for another year, the Ministry of Justice announced today. The temporary courtrooms were set up to boost capacity during the pandemic. A total of 24 will remain open this year to help to tackle the backlog of cases.

Lord chancellor Dominic Raab said Nightingale courts were ‘vital’ to help the court system ‘recover from the unprecedented impact of the pandemic and last year’s strike action.’

The courts that will remain open are at 11 sites in Chichester, Telford, Birmingham, Fleetwood, Swansea, Cirencester, Maidstone, Wolverhampton and multiple locations in London including the Barbican and Croydon. Cloth Hall court in Leeds will not operate as a Nightingale court from April when HMCTS no longer has use of the building.

Raab said: ‘The Crown court backlog is now falling once again and the continued use of these courtrooms will help to drive it down even further.’

In October 2022, the backlog stood at 63,121 cases. This number fell by almost 800 in the last two months of 2022. The government has said it will invest £477m over the next three years to tackle the problem and introduce measures such as allowing courts to run at full capacity, doubling the sentencing powers of magistrates and recruiting more judges.

But Law Society president Lubna Shuja said ‘additional physical capacity alone is not the solution’ as the ‘most pressing issue’ was insufficient numbers of lawyers, court staff and judges.

She added: ‘There are huge backlogs in our criminal courts causing unacceptable delays for victims, witnesses and defendants and extra capacity to deal with them is welcome. However additional physical capacity alone is not the solution.

‘We know there are already Nightingale courts sitting empty due to a lack of judges. The most pressing issue is there are not enough lawyers, court staff or judges to cover all the outstanding cases. Long-term investment is needed across the whole criminal justice system to remedy this.’

In a Law Society survey, more than 500 solicitors were asked about their experiences in courts and tribunals. Around two thirds (64%) said they had experienced delays in cases being heard within the last 12 months due to the state of the court while 28% said the courts were ‘not at all fit’ for purpose.

Shuja added: ‘Solicitors who responded to our recent survey on the poor state of court infrastructure in England and Wales made clear the importance of having more judges available to hear cases.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)