Cloth Hall Court in Leeds to open as 'Nightingale court' to help Ministry of Justice clear backlog of criminal cases

Leeds' historic Cloth Hall Court is to open as a 'Nightingale court' to help the justice system cope with a backlog of cases built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

The venue, on Quebec Street in Leeds city centre, was named today as one of ten emergency venues across England to open to ensure "the wheels of justice keep turning", the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

Magistrates' courts in England and Wales are facing a backlog of some 480,000 cases, while crown courts - where the most serious offences like rape and murder are dealt with - are dealing with a pile-up of some 41,000 cases, according to MoJ data for June.

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The MoJ said the new courts would create more space for existing courts to hear serious jury trials, which were temporarily paused as lockdown took effect.

Cloth Hall Court, Quebec Street, is expected to open as a 'Nightingale Court' next month.

A court set up in East Pallant House, Chichester, is expected to begin hearing cases next week, with all ten locations aiming to be operational by next month, the MoJ said.

After jury trials were halted in March and around half of courts closed, up to nine in 10 hearings have used remote technology to continue making progress throughout the pandemic, it added.

Some jury trials resumed in May, after almost two months on hold.

Jury trials returned at Leeds Crown Court last week, on July 15.

Last month Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC warned that clearing the lockdown-induced backlog could continue into next year.

Mr Buckland said of the new interim courts: "They will help boost capacity across our courts and tribunals - reducing delays and delivering speedier justice for victims.

"But we won't stop there. Together with the judiciary, courts staff and legal sector, I am determined that we must pursue every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible."

In April how The University of Leeds completed the purchase of Cloth Hall Court, which was once a focal point for the textile trade.

The conference and meeting venue on Quebec Street, was sold by Leeds Beckett University for close to the guide price of £8m.

Cloth Hall Court has 10 meeting rooms over four floors and room for up to 300 delegates.

The building was originally built for the trading of Yorkshire Broadcloths, which helped Leeds gain its status as a global centre for commerce and trade in the wool and cloth industries.

In its heyday, the Coloured Cloth Hall housed 1,770 stalls for merchants to display their goods.

The ten confirmed sites for 'Nightingale Courts' are:

- Former county court at Telford, Shropshire;

- Hertfordshire Development Centre, Stevenage;

- Swansea Council Chambers, Swansea;

- Cloth Hall Court, Leeds;

- Middlesbrough Town Hall, Teesside;

- East Pallant House, Chichester;

- 102 Petty France, London;

- Prospero House, London;

- Former magistrates' court at Fleetwood, Lancashire;

- Knights' Chamber and Visitor Centre, Bishop's Palace, Peterborough Cathedral.