At least five Nightingale courts will shut this week, the government has said, despite demands from the legal profession for more court capacity. Makeshift courts in Birmingham, Hull, Lancaster, Middlesbrough and Stafford will close at the end of the month. HM Courts & Tribunals Service said it will consider replacement venues in locations where an ‘operational need remains’. Meanwhile, Chester Town Hall, which handled criminal cases during the pandemic, will be replaced by Crowne Plaza Chester, a four-star hotel. Earlier this month, Mercure Maidstone – a hotel in Kent with conference and meeting rooms – opened two non-custodial crown courtrooms for jury trials. The government has also promised that a ‘super-court’ will open in Loughborough in September to hear complex cases involving several defendants such as gang-related crime and sex-trafficking cases.
Quarterly figures published by the government last week show that outstanding Crown court cases continued to rise in January- March 2021, up 45% compared with the previous year and 4% on the previous quarter. In the magistrates’ court, outstanding cases increased by 3% on the previous quarter and are 21% higher than the previous year. More up-to-date figures suggest that the backlog is starting to dip, however. According to the Ministry of Justice, 57,503 cases were outstanding in the Crown court system at the end of May, down from 58,228 at the end of April. Throughout May, the backlog shrank by around 200 cases a week.