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Nightingale Courts

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2021

I am pleased to tell the House that there are currently 47 Nightingale courtrooms in operation, of which 28 are used for Crown court purposes, and we are in the process of extending the operation of 32 of those until the end of March. I am sure colleagues across the House will welcome that. In addition, we are in the process of reopening 60 existing courtrooms in the Crown court estate that had been closed owing to social distancing; more than half have already reopened. When all of that is done, we expect to have about 500 Crown courtrooms available, of which well over half will be capable of accommodating jury trials.

I am grateful for that answer. We have one such Nightingale court in Nottingham, but the backlogs across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have grown to be extraordinary, with constituents finding the dates for their cases going to the back end of 2022. That will not do. It is bad for victims and bad for the strength of those cases as memories fade for witnesses and similar. Will the Minister commit to meet me and other Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Members to talk about what more we can do in our community to get the backlogs down?

The relevant Justice Minister would be delighted to meet and discuss these issues. Naturally, the covid pandemic has had a significant impact on the justice system, but that is why the Government have: invested an extra quarter of a billion pounds in covid recovery; hired 1,600 staff for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service; deployed the Cloud video platform that at its peak was hearing 20,000 cases across the system remotely; and had the 47 extra Nightingale courtrooms. I am sure the House will unite in welcoming those measures. Our aim is to get cases heard as quickly as possible.

Nationally we have a record high Crown court backlog of about 60,000 cases a result of the court closures and a decade of Tory cuts. Will the Government commit to continuing Nightingale courts until the backlog has cleared? When does the Minister think that will happen?

First, the number of outstanding cases is principally a function of the pandemic. The hon. Member may be interested to know that in March 2020—before the covid pandemic—the outstanding case load was about 39,000, which the House will be interested to hear was substantially lower than the 47,000 bequeathed by the last Labour Government. I have laid out the investments we are making in court recovery, including the quarter of a billion pounds being spent, and this financial year there is no limitation on Crown court sitting days. The Government’s commitment to hearing these cases is without question.

I remind the Minister that the courtroom in Chorley is still available—it is back up for sale.