Around 60 Crown Court rooms will reopen by September and the leases of 32 ‘Nightingale Court’ rooms will be extended to April 2022, the Ministry of Justice has said.
The Nightingale sites, which include a hotel in Manchester and conference centres in London and Birmingham, have been dealing with non-custodial criminal trials and are intended to help alleviate pressures on nearby Crown Courts.
The MoJ said judges would also have the option to open court rooms for longer under new ‘Temporary Operating Arrangements’ (TOA).
The measure – “which would be completely at the discretion of independent judges” – enables a court room to run two lists, one in the morning and one in the afternoon instead of the standard 10am - 4pm hours.
The Ministry said this followed successful pilots in Crown Courts in Liverpool, Cardiff, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Portsmouth, Reading, Snaresbrook and Stafford.
“It is designed so that no individual would be expected to work any longer than they currently do,” the MoJ insisted.
Judges will also be given greater flexibility to free up space in court buildings by hosting pre-trial preparation hearings online.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “I’m delighted that we can begin to carefully reopen more of the courts estate – increasing capacity significantly to deliver swifter justice for victims.
“We’re also giving judges greater flexibility to open courts for longer and move more hearings online, while extending the leases of Nightingale Court rooms which have been crucial in helping reduce delays during the pandemic.”
He added: “Alongside our plan to have no limit on the number of days Crown Courts can sit for this year, we are pursuing every available option to ensure the justice system can build back stronger as quickly as possible.”