The Ministry of Justice is extending the use of some of its Nightingale courts for another year to make further inroads on the backlog of cases waiting to be dealt with.
It confirmed today that 11 of the temporary centres – introduced three years ago to provide more space for jury trials when Covid social-distancing measures were in place – would continue in use to help reduce the number outstanding cases in the system.
According to a House of Commons research briefing produced last month, there were 347,820 outstanding magistrates court cases as of the end of September, down from a peak of 422,000 at the height of the pandemic in mid-2020.
However, crown courts had a backlog of 62,766 cases at the end of September, up from the previous peak of 61,000 in mid-2021.
As of last month, Nightingale courts were operating at 16 locations and providing a total of 34 courtrooms. In its announcement today, the MoJ said the Cloth Hall Nightingale Court at Leeds would no longer operate from April, when its lease expires. Courts operating in Southampton and Hendon in northwest London were also absent from the new list.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab – who is at the centre of an ongoing probe into allegations of staff bullying that is being overseen by barrister Adam Tolley KC – said extending the life of the 11 Nightingale Courts would allow more cases to be heard.
“We are determined to provide the swift justice that victims deserve, and Nightingale courts have a vital role to play as our justice system continues to recover from the unprecedented impact of the pandemic and last year’s strike action,” he said.
“The crown court backlog is now falling once again, and the continued use of these courtrooms will help to drive it down even further.”
The MoJ said the government is investing £477m over the next three years to tackle the backlog, with measures including allowing courts to run at full capacity, doubling the sentencing powers of magistrates and recruiting more judges.
It said last year’s decision to lift the cap on the number of days courts can sit, to help them run at maximum capacity, and increasing magistrates’ sentencing powers would free up an estimated 1,700 days of crown court time every year.
Today's announcement follows a similar Nightingale courts extension confirmed by then-justice minister James Cartlidge in March last year. Cartlidge is now exchequer secretary to the Treasury.