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Suffolk battles to get ‘Nightingale Court’ to clear backlog of cases caused by coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 16:30 09 October 2020

Ipswich Crown Court can only hold limited numbers of trials because of social distancing measures from Covid-19.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Ipswich Crown Court can only hold limited numbers of trials because of social distancing measures from Covid-19. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Backlogs in cases coming to Suffolk’s courts are “deeply worrying” according to the police and crime commissioner – with some victims and witnesses having to travel as far as Chelmsford to give evidence.

Poluce and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said he was deeply worried by the backlog of cases at corwn and magistrates' courts.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPoluce and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said he was deeply worried by the backlog of cases at corwn and magistrates' courts. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Crown and magistrates’ courts in Ipswich have been hit with a large backlog of cases because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated social distancing requirements.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Panel meeting on Friday heard that the delays had increased by around 60% at crown court and 25% at magistrates’ court because of the pandemic, and the limited number of courts and trials which can be heard at once.

The county’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said that while he does not have any power to change that, he was lobbying the Ministry of Justice for Suffolk to get a ‘Nightingale Court’ – pop up courts set up across the country to help clear the backlog that were inspired by the ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ set up at the height of lockdown to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed.

Suffolk so far has not been told it is to get one.

Space at  Endeavour House opposite the crown court has been earmarked for jury deliberation if needed. Picture: ARCHANTSpace at Endeavour House opposite the crown court has been earmarked for jury deliberation if needed. Picture: ARCHANT

“It is difficult because it is not simply just opening up more court houses, there needs to be staff,” he said.

“But is it putting an extra burden on the victims and witness service for the constabulary.

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“The delays are deeply worrying and we need to try and work very hard together to find solutions to clear the backlog.”

It is understood that another crown court room has opened in Ipswich in the last week to help work through cases, and office space at the county council offices opposite in Endeavour House had also been made available for jury deliberations if needed.

Mr Passmore said the delays had now stabilised and was slowly starting to reduce, but was “one heck of a commitment to get that cleared”.

He added: “I don’t think any [Nightingale Courts] are planned for Suffolk and I think we are now reaping the whirlwind of closing the courts at Lowestoft and Bury.

“Everyone knows my thoughts on that, I was vehemently opposed to it.”

Mr Passmore cited particular concerns around domestic abuse cases where some victims and witnesses had been asked to travel to family courts in Colchester and Chelmsford for the hearings.

“That may be a stop gap but that is not acceptable because if you live in Haverhill, how do you get there is you haven’t got transport?” he added.

Mr Passmore said he was pressing the MoJ to get more capacity in the system but no solutions have yet been announced.


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