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Manchester super court opens in battle against the backlog

By John Hyde >>

The first of the so-called ‘super courtrooms’ opened today in Manchester as the authorities continue efforts to reduce the backlog built up during lockdown.

Court four of Manchester Crown Court (Crown Square) has been given a £2.5m extension to create the new facility, which is three times the size of a usual courtroom and allows for trials with up to 12 defendants. These cases usually involve gang-related crime such as county lines drug trafficking, murders and money laundering.

These multi-hander trials have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic as courts struggled to accommodate multiple defendants due to the need for social distancing.

The courtroom is equipped with remote technology so defendants, witnesses and victims can relay evidence from outside the courtroom.

Courts minister Lord Wolfson QC said: ‘This super courtroom is just the latest step in our efforts to tackle the impact of the pandemic on our justice system.

‘It will get gang-related suspects in front of judges quicker – sending a message to would-be criminals that the justice system stands ready to hold them to account.’

According to the most recent figures, published at the end of May, the backlog of Crown Court cases was 57,503, which had fallen since April’s peak of more than 58,000. The figure was 46% higher than the pre-Covid baseline.

The Ministry of Justice has pledged to extend 32 temporary courtrooms that deal with criminal trials until March 2022. An additional 60 existing Crown courtrooms are being reopened in the coming months following the lifting of most restrictions in England and Wales. Court officials expect to soon be hosting more than 20,000 hearings using remote technology each week across all jurisdictions.

The MoJ says the number of outstanding cases has dropped by tens of thousands in the magistrates’ courts since last summer, and the number of cases dealt with in the Crown Court are at pre-Covid levels. Work continues on a second super courtroom site at Loughborough Magistrates’ Court which should open this autumn.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)