Temporary court to be held at Chichester’s East Pallant House to deal with backlog of cases
East Pallant House in Chichester has been announced as the first ‘nightingale court’ in England and Wales, which have been set up to deal with the backlog of cases caused by the coronavirus pandmeic.
The court set up at East Pallant House is expected to begin hearing an expanded list of cases next week.
It is one of 10 temporary courts announced by the Ministry of Justice today, which will hear civil, family and tribunals work as well as non-custodial crime cases.
A spokesman said: “This will start to alleviate the pressure on courts and tribunals resulting from the pandemic – ensuring that the wheels of justice keep turning.”
The move will free up room in existing courts to hear other cases, including custodial jury trials, which require cells and secure dock facilities to keep the public, victims and witnesses safe.
It comes after a Chichester lawyer called for the city’s three large former court buildings to be brought back into use as so-called ‘nightingale courts’.
Edward Cooke, who runs his own specialist family law practice in Chilgrove, said it was ‘somewhat ironic’ that the court buildings in Southgate stood ‘entirely vacant at such a time’, pointing out that both the Crown and the Magistrates court buildings were equipped to handle criminal trials – read more here.
He said: “There are huge backlogs in the criminal justice system and these buildings could yet be brought back into use, if only as a short term measure.”
Responding to the announcement on Twitter today, he said: “Delighted to see first Nightingale court in England will be in Chichester at the hearing centre at East Pallant House and will hear family and civil cases full time from this week.”
Both civil and family hearings have been held at East Pallant House since January 2019, thanks to a successful four-year campaign led by Mr Cooke, who fought to secure continued court provision in the city after the Magistrates’ Court and Combined Court were closed.
Mr Cooke previously said this ‘pop-up court’ was one of the first in the country and had been ‘very successful’.
He wrote on Twitter today: “Great that it’s now a full time hearing centre even if only for the time being.”
In a statement revealing the location of the new nightingale courts today, The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP said: “Our action to keep the justice system running throughout the pandemic has been globally recognised, with these Nightingale Courts being the latest step in this effort.
“They will help boost capacity across our courts and tribunals - reducing delays and delivering speedier justice for victims.
“But we won’t stop there. Together with the judiciary, courts staff and legal sector, I am determined that we must pursue every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible.
“In March 2020, almost half of all courts were closed and jury trials were paused to minimise social interaction between court users.
“Since then, court staff, legal professionals, and the judiciary have collaborated to prioritise cases and keep the justice system running throughout the lockdown – with up to 90% of all hearings using remote technology during the pandemic.
“These actions have meant that, throughout the lockdown, domestic abuse victims could obtain protection orders, children could be safeguarded, and dangerous suspects dealt with.
“Measures were put in place to safely resume jury trials in May 2020, and 54 Crown Courts will be hearing jury trials as of next week.
“More widely, almost all courts are now open to the public again – with over 300 operating this week.”
Last week, the Lord Chancellor set out further measures which are being considered to help ease pressure on the courts system.
These included opening courts for longer to increase the number of cases that can be heard safely on any given day, and continuing to use video technology to hear cases where appropriate.
Additional potential Nightingale Courts sites are also being explored.