Hannah says “Under plans confirmed by the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC, around 60 Crown Court rooms will reopen their doors by September following the lifting of most restrictions in England and Wales. Additionally, 32 Nightingale Court rooms – temporarily set up over the past year to increase capacity and reduce delays – will have their leases extended to April 2022. The sites, which include a hotel in Manchester and conference centres in London and Birmingham have been dealing with non-custodial criminal trials and will continue to help alleviate pressures on nearby Crown Courts.”
Meanwhile, judges will 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. It follows successful pilots in Crown Courts in Liverpool, Cardiff, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Portsmouth, Reading, Snaresbrook and Stafford, which saw more cases flow through each week. It is designed so that no individual would be expected to work any longer than they currently do.
Judges will also be given greater flexibility to free up space in court buildings by hosting pre-trial preparation hearings online. These had typically involved a defendant telling the court whether or not they plead guilty and required all parties, including the accused and lawyers, to attend a court hearing. Under the new proposals, where a judge deems appropriate, the hearings will be conducted virtually – speeding up proceedings and allowing trials to be heard sooner, while releasing vital court room capacity.