Two new ‘Nightingale Courts’ in Bristol and Chester will begin hearing cases this week as part of a UK government move to tackle the impact of coronavirus on the British justice system. Located temporarily at the Bristol Law Society and Chester Town Hall, the government hopes these new facilities will free up rooms in nearby crown.
Nightingale Courts have been created across the UK to alleviate pressure on courts and tribunals resulting from the pandemic. The two additions take the total to 14 with a further 3 scheduled to open in October, in total providing an additional 22 courtrooms.
In addition, portable jury rooms have been installed at courts across Yorkshire to unlock further capacity. The Portakabin buildings erected at Bradford, Hull and Leeds Crown Courts will be used for jurors to deliberate and will allow eight courtrooms to resume hearing trials. Crucially, the portable facilities provide sufficient space for 2 metre social distancing between jurors and come equipped with Plexiglass screens as well as hand sanitation stations, to help stop the spread of Covid-19. The temporary rooms will be installed at further courts across the country in the coming months.
“These additional facilities will help to boost the capacity of these courts – reducing delays and ensuring speedier justice for all,” explained Justice Minister Chris Philp. “This is the latest step in our plan to work with the judiciary and legal sector in pursuing every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible.”
This announcement follows a recent £80 million investment in the courts system to meet the unprecedented challenge presented by the pandemic. This will fund the employment of 1,600 new staff to support the recovery, with more temporary Nightingale Courts and technology to boost capacity.
These measures are beginning to show positive results. Magistrate courts are seeing the number of outstanding cases drop – dealing with over 21,000 cases a week. Crown courts are currently holding over 100 jury trials, and clear over 1,700 cases a week. And 250 Crown Court rooms will be available for jury trials by the end of October following the roll out of Plexiglass screens to more than 200 court rooms and 100 jury deliberation rooms.
Meanwhile, a £153 million investment across the courts system has been designed to speed up technological improvements and modernise courtrooms.