PCC admits there's no exit plan for Nottinghamshire crown court backlog
There is no end in sight for clearing the significant backlog being faced by crown courts, Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has said.
It comes as a new report found progress is being made in magistrates’ courts, which deal with lesser offences, but that crown courts, which hear the most serious cases, are seeing an ever-growing backlog.
The majority of cases in crown courts require a jury – made difficult by social distancing requirements – and the large number of people involved in most trials place additional difficulties on the system.
It had been hoped a temporary nightingale court would be set up in Hucknall – however that was dismissed as unsuitable by the Government.
Next week, senior figures from the county and city will discuss the latest report from the Nottinghamshire police and crime commissioner (PCC), which looks into what is being done to reduce waiting times in the courts.
It found that: “Reflecting the national picture, Nottinghamshire saw a marked increase in outstanding workload in the magistrates’ court during quarter 1 2020-21.
“A courts recovery plan was initiated in August 2020 with work to clear the backlog of initial hearings in the magistrates’ court being prioritised by case type.
“A backlog of 178 domestic abuse cases in August was cleared by October following the introduction of 23 additional court sittings.
“A backlog of youth cases was also cleared in early October 2020.
“Despite disposals having largely exceeded receipts in the magistrates’ courts since August 2020, the workload in Nottinghamshire remained around 9 per cent higher than pre-lockdown levels as at October 4, with some trials being adjourned for around three months.”
On the issue of crown court hearings, it found: “In Nottinghamshire, two of the largest crown court rooms available were adapted and made Covid-secure during the early stages of the pandemic.
“Perspex screens were introduced in areas where two-metre distancing could not be assured.
“The courtrooms were used to accommodate Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire cases during the pandemic.”
Paddy Tipping, PCC for Nottinghamshire, said talks were ongoing over new temporary courts.
“We hope we are still going to get a nightingale court, but there have been long delays about this.
“We offered premises in Hucknall to the court service, they turned it down, but they’re telling me they’re still looking for an alternative.
“We’re making progress in the magistrates’ courts, but there are long delays in the crown courts.
“It’s not good for victims, it’s not good for witnesses and I’m not confident that the court service have a plan to resolve this.
“There were delays before Covid, but the problem is the layouts of the courts and Covid security, most courts can’t deal with many cases at any one time.
“It makes running the court extremely difficult.
“We’re looking at delays of two or three years’ time.
“People’s memories fade, and they shouldn’t be left in limbo like that.
“We’ve supplied information nationally, particularly around sexual offences and some child sexual offences, where some children who are victims have been left dangling, and it’s not satisfactory.
“The courts service has worked hard on the magistrates’ side, we’re making progress there, but is there an exit plan for the crown courts – no there isn’t.”
Asked whether he could envisage when the backlog would be cleared, should a nightingale court not be set up, he said: “No, I can’t.
“We’re talking about (trial dates for current offences) in 2022 at the moment, and I think it could get longer.
"Clearly waiting for two years to get to court, nobody can defend that.
“I know it’s a difficult situation, but there needs to be a real plan, and that could be around some of the crown courts working weekends for example, or evenings.
“We’ve got to put victims first really, it’s a simple as that.”
A HM Courts and Tribunals and spokesman said: “We are working on ways to increase the number of courtrooms in the East Midlands and using video technology to help keep the justice system running.
“This is contributing to a national recovery effort, which is already seeing the magistrates’ backlog falling, and the number of cases resolved in the crown courts trebling since April.”