The prime minister has announced £142m to digitally upgrade and maintain around 100 courts as part of a £5bn coronavirus recovery plan. The court cash is part of what Downing Street billed a ‘new deal for Britain’.
Explaining the investment, the Ministry of Justice said the process of improving 100 courts will create at least 2,250 jobs. £30m will be spent on equipping 750 more courtrooms to hold remote hearings within six months. £10m will be spent building new court facilities.
Another £95m will be spent on maintenance. With £48m already allocated for maintenance this year, the ministry said this added up to the biggest single investment in maintaining the court estate for over 20 years.
Courts such as Wrexham, Hull and Leeds will get new court cells, courtrooms and improved access. Buildings will be refurbished and made more energy efficient.
Elsewhere, £20m will be spent on improving IT in prisons so that more court and parole hearings can be heard remotely as well as improving prisoners’ digital literacy and education.
Around £10m will go towards refurbishing the youth custody estate, installing in-room showers, improving existing and building new education facilities, and secure in-room learning technology. Approved premises, used by the Probation Service to monitor high-risk offenders recently released from prison will get £10m worth of building and security improvements, including CCTV and alarm system upgrades.
Lord chancellor Robert Buckland said: ‘We have already launched the most ambitious prison building programme for generations, delivering over 13,000 places by the mid-2020s, and have dramatically increased the use of technology in the courts system. This extra spending will keep thousands of people in work and generate jobs for thousands more, helping the UK recover from the economic freeze brought on by coronavirus.
‘These improvements will also help to speed up justice through the courts and improve education in prisons and youth custody so that offenders leave less likely to reoffend.’
Law Society president Simon Davis welcomed the £142m but said wider funding is desperately needed across the justice system.
Davis said: ‘Covid-19 has had a significant impact – with many courts closing temporarily and already high case backlogs increasing. Improving legal aid and ensuring more people are represented in court will also be vital in ensuring the courts run as efficiently as possible and clearing the backlogs.
‘The adoption of lawtech solutions is of increasing importance during a period of social distancing and lockdowns and it is only right that our court system is at the forefront. We also encourage the government to channel some of this investment into courts’ data gathering system to assess how well new technologies are working and which future changes are needed to improve our justice system.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.