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Inside first of three ‘Nightingale’ courts to open in London this month as it begins criminal trials

Tristan Kirk
·3-min read
A Nightingale court has been set up in Barbican (MoJ)
A Nightingale court has been set up in Barbican (MoJ)

One of three new ‘Nightingalecourts to open in London this month has started hosting criminal trials for the first time.

Space at the five-storey CCT Venues conference centre in Barbican has been hired by the Ministry of Justice for two ad-hoc courtrooms, opening their doors for the first time yesterday.

Pictures from inside the new court, next to Barbican Tube station, show a set-up more akin to an exam hall than a courtroom, with individual desks spaced apart according to social distancing rules.

Each judge will be stationed on a small stage to oversee proceedings, while stripped-back waiting areas for jurors have also been set up.

In mid-March, meeting rooms at the aptly named Jurys Inn Hotel in Croydon will also start hearing criminal trials for defendants who are currently on bail.

And by the end of the month, three spare courtrooms at Hendon magistrates court are expected to have begun taking cases from Wood Green crown court.

By the end of March, the MoJ expects to have a total of 60 ‘Nightingale’ courtrooms in operation around the country, as part of efforts to boost capacity in the justice system.

It is housed next to Barbican Tube stationMoJ
It is housed next to Barbican Tube stationMoJ

Latest figures show the backlog of criminal cases has topped 56,000, with trials now being listed in 2023 and other cases in limbo awaiting a trial date due to delays in the system.

The opening of the Barbican ‘Nightingale’ brings the total of extra courtrooms opened in London during the pandemic to 11.

Three courtrooms were set up in a conference centre in Borough last July, the Royal Courts of Justice is hosting two criminal courtrooms, and family matters being heard at four rooms within the MoJ’s headquarters.

The set-up is more akin to an exam hall than a courtroomMoJ
The set-up is more akin to an exam hall than a courtroomMoJ

Courts minister Chris Philp said the department has “left no stone unturned” in efforts to keep justice moving in the pandemic, while Caroline Bull, chief executive of CCT Venues, London, praised court staff who have set up the new courtrooms.

“We are impressed by the dedication of HMCTS personnel, who have clearly adapted well to this new way of working”, she said.

“They are taking great care with regards to health and safety, but still achieving quick results and ensuring these temporary facilities meet all of the required standards.

“We are proud to have played our part by transforming our conference and meeting space, both on budget and on time. We were able to do this because of a long history of flexibility and our ability to adapt quickly to customers changing and sometimes-challenging requirements.

Each judge will be stationed on a small stage to oversee proceedingsMoJ
Each judge will be stationed on a small stage to oversee proceedingsMoJ

“Our partnership with HMCTS has created much needed positivity for our business and we look forward to working with them over the coming months.”

The justice system received a £337 million settlement in last November’s spending review, for emergency pandemic measures and other upgrades to the courts estate.

A previous limit on the number of sitting days for judges was also been removed as part of efforts to tackle the bulging backlog in cases across the courts.

Attention is now turning to future government funding decisions, amid pressure for the Treasury to guarantee long-term financial backing for the justice system to tackle backlogs and delays.

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