Nightingale courts and remote hearings – how the MoJ adapted to Covid challenges

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Antonia Romeo tells us about 12 months of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic at the same time as pushing ahead with new challenges
Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer for Civil Service World

By Civil Service World

15 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?
In January, I became permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, returning after six years to a department I love and where I have spent much of my public sector career. We are delivering some of the most significant reforms to the justice system in a generation, so this is an exciting time.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
Our work this year has been focused on service delivery during the pandemic and recovery. We’ve been opening up prisons again from the Covid lockdown and have been working to bring down the outstanding caseload in the courts, caused by the need to socially distance whilst keeping justice going in 2020. Staff in our courts and tribunals quickly adopted new ways of working including remote hearings, and we’ve opened Nightingale courts across the country to speed up justice.

On top of this operational work, we’ve been delivering at pace on our policy work, including crucial activity to support victims by launching the Victims’ Code in March and publishing the end-to-end Rape Review in June.
What is your number one priority for 2022?
We are leading the second-largest infrastructure programme in the UK, building six new prisons by the mid-2020s. This is a huge programme to deliver modern, safe and secure prison places across the UK. The first new prison, HMP Five Wells in Northamptonshire, will accept its first prisoner in February.
Which historical, mythical, or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, would be interesting. Although he doesn’t appear that fun. Perhaps Arsenal legend Ian Wright is a better bet – we could discuss the Twinning Project in which he’s involved: a brilliant initiative to pair prisons and football clubs to support prisoners to gain new skills and employment on release. 

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