Posted on Thursday 4th February 2021
The Shire Hall in Stafford has opened its doors as a ‘Nightingale Court’, joining the national effort to tackle the impact of coronavirus on the justice system.
The Grade II listed building, owned by Staffordshire County Council, will return to its Georgian roots as a courthouse. It will host two court rooms for civil and family cases to free up space for more jury trials at Stoke Combined Court.
Temporary ‘Nightingale’ courts, have been set up across the country to enable more socially distanced trials to take place, ensuring justice continues to be served.
This is because more space is required than was previously the case due to the need to keep everyone distanced in the buildings – such as jurors, witnesses, court staff, legal professionals and judges.
Courts Minister, Chris Philp MP, said:
The Shire Hall Nightingale Court will help to reduce delays and deliver speedier justice for victims across Staffordshire, and I’m delighted we’ve been able to work with the county council to get it up and running.
This is part of our efforts to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible, building on progress which has already seen magistrates’ backlogs fall and the number of cases being dealt with in the Crown Court reach pre-pandemic levels last month.”
Staffordshire County Council’s deputy leader Philip White said:
We’re pleased to have been able to lend our support to HM Courts and Tribunals Service to enable it to continue with proceedings and avoid delays by using the historic court rooms at our Shire Hall building.
It’s important that we all pull together to keep services going through the pandemic period for the benefit of our communities. The Shire Hall does of course provide the perfect space in its court rooms which were last used for this purpose over 30 years ago.
As we move forward beyond Covid-19 we can look forward to bringing the former library area in the Shire Hall back into productive use as our new enterprise hub for small businesses thanks to a £2m investment.”
The Ministry of Justice has spared no expense in its continued efforts to keep the justice system running during this pandemic.
£142m has been spent on upgrading court buildings and technology, alongside £110m to increase capacity – making over a quarter of a billion-pound investment in court recovery this year.
1,600 extra staff are being hired, plexiglass screens set up in more than 450 Courts, 20,000 remote hearings take place each week, and more than 290 jury trial court rooms are in operation – substantially more than before the pandemic.
The impact of these measures is already being seen. Since August, the Magistrates courts backlog has been reducing month on month and in the last full week before Christmas, Crown Court disposals exceeded receipts for the first time since Covid started.
These efforts will be supported by an extra £337m announced in the recent Spending Review to deliver swifter justice and support victims, while £76m will further increase capacity in family courts and tribunals
Every HMCTS building – including Nightingale Courts - meet the government’s Covid-secure guidelines, and public health experts have confirmed the arrangements remain sufficient to deal with the new strain of the virus. The Shire Hall Nightingale court opened on Thursday January 28.