In response to the recent reports of Nightingale Court closures, Michelle Heeley QC, Leader of the Midlands Circuit and Barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers commented:
“In a situation of an already devastating court backlog in the UK, the closure of some of the Nightingale Courts in the coming weeks is set to worsen the delays members of the public are facing in accessing justice. This short-term solution was never going to solve the issue, but it was going some way to speed up proceedings in key regions experiencing delay. However, the cumulative effect of a lack of recruitment to the criminal bar and court closures over the years has seen a backlog that is now almost irretrievable.
“The impact we are seeing on both victims and the accused of these delays has been catastrophic. During the agonising waiting time to go to court, there is significant pressure on all parties. Victims are left without justice and witnesses memories begin to fade, which can have serious repercussions when they are called to testify. My concern is that people are put off pursuing justice in highly traumatic and sensitive cases because it could take years to reach court.
“These Nightingale Courts were set up to solve the impact of Covid on the judicial system, however, the backlog was worsening over the years before thanks to court closures and lack of recruitment. What’s more, the temporary measures have ended up costing more than the amount of money gained through closing the courts initially.
“The solution is not as simple as reopening courts. We must recruit more barristers and judges to the criminal bar and recognise that working in this area of law is tough, which means greater support for these professionals while they work. Our judicial system cannot survive with too few overworked barristers and judges to take on cases, leading to people not joining or, worse perhaps, leaving the criminal bar.
“We cannot afford a situation where the public lose faith in a judicial system and so must address the long-term issues to maintain faith and for us to be able to deliver justice for victims and the accused.”