Three Nightingale courts hosting criminal cases will shut by the end of June, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed, despite calls for more court capacity.
Chester Town Hall, Lancaster Town Hall and Birmingham Theatre and Library – which handle Crown court cases, magistrates’ work and non-custodial crime work – are scheduled for closure. According to local news reports, Chester Town Hall has already heard its final case..
Last month, the government revealed that 12 of the 30 make-shift court buildings currently in operation have hire agreements which expire in June. However, the MoJ said it has now negotiated extensions to 14 courtrooms and remains ‘in close contact with the landlords of all existing venues’.
Justice minister Chris Philp also told the House of Commons this week that a ‘super-court’ dedicated to Crown work will open in Loughborough in the late summer to accommodate large multi-hander trials.
‘We are encouraging the judiciary the length and breadth of the kingdom, including in the east midlands, to be forward-leaning in listing,’ he said. Philp did not specify how long the ‘super-court’ would be in operation.
The legal profession has repeatedly called for more Nightingale courts to help tackle the court backlog. Responding to the government's latest Crown court data, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: 'The latest Crown court backlog figures show more than 57,000 outstanding cases, resulting in unacceptable delays in accessing justice for victims, witnesses and defendants.
‘Some trials are being listed for 2023 with the pandemic having exacerbated the effect of decades of underfunding and cuts on the criminal courts. The government must maximise the existing court capacity as we emerge from lockdown and boost capacity through many more Nightingale courts to increase the number of jury trials that can take place.'