Hotels and theatre to be used as Nightingale courts

21 September 2020, 19:18

The Lowry is the first theatre to become a Nightingale Court
The Lowry is the first theatre to become a Nightingale Court. Picture: Nathan Chandler/ The Lowry

By Maddie Goodfellow

Two hotels and a theatre in Salford, York and Middlesbrough are to be used as Nightingale courts in a bid to clear the backlog of cases which has grown amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

A further five are also earmarked for Chester, Liverpool, Bristol, Winchester and Cirencester but the buildings set to be used are yet to be confirmed.

A theatre and two hotels will be transformed into makeshift courts to help clear the backlog of cases exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Lowry in Salford, the Hilton Hotel in York and Jury's Inn in Middlesbrough are the latest buildings to become Nightingale courts, opening on September 28, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

A further five are earmarked for Chester, Liverpool, Bristol, Winchester and Cirencester and could open next month but the sites are yet to be confirmed.

Theatres and courts will be used for trials
Theatres and courts will be used for trials. Picture: Nathan Chandler/ The Lowry

The Lowry in Salford will begin its deal with the MoJ on Monday 28 September, and will provide a much needed source of income for the art gallery and theatre while social distancing measures make theatre performances economically challenging.

It will also help the Government alleviate the pressure on courts and tribunals resulting from the pandemic – with judges based at The Lowry hearing civil, family and tribunal work as well as criminal cases.

The Lowry is the first arts centre in the country to have secured a contract as a temporary Nightingale Court and the income is set to help ensure the organisation’s survival and help safeguard hundreds of jobs.

Julia Fawcett OBE, chief executive of The Lowry, said: “Like arts venues up and down the country, we simply cannot operate our building as normal in the current climate. And with no regular source of income since March, this partnership provides vital funds to enable us to relaunch our programme.

“This includes online, open-air and community performances by some of the UK’s most creative dance, circus and theatre companies as well as creative engagement activities that will improve the mental health & life chances of more than 2,000 young people in Salford.

“Furthermore, we hope to spread the benefit of this partnership across Greater Manchester by commissioning new work from local artists specifically designed for the post-COVID audience environment.”

Theatres have struggled during the pandemic
Theatres have struggled during the pandemic. Picture: Nathan Chandler/ The Lowry

It comes as the director of public prosecutions Max Hill warned delays in cases coming to court are "corrosive" as they force victims to wait for justice.

He suggested carrying out more remote hearings could be part of the answer to tackling the growing backlog as it emerged some courts are currently listing trials for 2023.

Courts in England and Wales are grappling with a waiting list of around half a million cases after courts being forced to shut during lockdown added to existing delays.

The Manchester arts centre will have four court rooms hearing criminal cases where defendants are not being held in custody, while the Middlesbrough hotel will deal with both civil and family cases. The hotel in York will also hear family cases.

It brings the total number of Nightingale courts to 17, providing 32 court rooms, the MoJ said, with the existing sites operating at 80 per cent capacity, which is higher than the average court prior to the pandemic.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland hailed the "important step" in the recovery plan but added: "We must keep going if we are to get our courts back up to speed."

Magistrates' courts are now dealing with some 21,000 cases a week while crown courts are clearing more than 1,700 cases at the same time and holding more than 100 jury trials.

Since the beginning of August, an extra 1,000 cases have been heard with extended sittings on Saturdays. Liverpool, Hull, Stafford and Snaresbrook crown courts are testing out longer sitting hours, with more expected to follow.

Plastic screens are being installed in 300 court rooms and rooms used for jury deliberations, allowing 250 crown courts to reopen for trials, which the MoJ said is more than were operating before the pandemic.

The Government has also pledged to install more technology to allow extra remote hearings to take place.

The full list of Nightingale courts already operating is as follows:

- Part of the Telford Justice Centre which had been sitting empty is being used to hear civil and family cases.

- The former magistrates' court building in Fleetwood, Lancashire, is handling civil and family cases for Preston or Blackpool magistrates' courts.

- Swansea Council chambers has taken on crime cases for Swansea Crown Court, where defendants are on bail.

- Middlesbrough Town Hall in Teesside is hearing civil cases like libel and defamation as part of Middlesbrough County Court, and later may also take on family cases.

- East Pallant House in Chichester, Sussex, is dealing with civil and family cases for Worthing County Court.

- The Ministry of Justice headquarters at 102 Petty France in Westminster is hearing east and west London Family Courts cases.

- Prospero House in central London is hosting crime cases for Southwark Crown Court where defendants are on bail.

- The Knights' Chamber and Visitor Centre, Gatehouse, Bishops Palace, Peterborough, is dealing with corporate crime cases when the defendant is not in custody

- Cloth Hall Court in Leeds, Yorkshire, is hearing civil, business and property cases.

But the Hertfordshire Development Centre in Stevenage, which was dealing with civil cases like money claims for Luton and Watford County Courts, closed after two weeks after it cleared the backlog for those types of hearings.