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UK News

Peterborough Cathedral sets up emergency court to help justice system with backlog

by Tola Mbakwe

Peterborough Cathedral will house one of ten new emergency "Nightingale courts" in England. They've been set up to help the justice system cope with the backlog of cases built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the ad hoc courts will hear non-custodial crime cases as well as tribunals, family and civil matters to ensure "the wheels of justice keep turning".

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 41,000 cases, according to MoJ data for June.

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.

Hearings at Peterborough Cathedral will take place in the Knights' Chamber within the Visitor Centre.

Very Rev Chris Dalliston, Dean of Peterborough Cathedral said he's "proud" the church was among the first to be selected to "help support critically important work". 

"The 13th century building has served many purposes in its time and this will add another layer to its long history," he said. "Attending court can be a very anxious time for people and we hope that some of those who come might also find a moment of peace and tranquillity in the Cathedral whilst they are here."

Caroline Goodwin QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, welcomed the news as a "start", adding: "Now let's get serious and open up 50 more buildings and focus on criminal trials."

She said: "Time is of the essence. Two months of delay getting these 10 on-stream just piles on the human suffering to get trials on that have already been delayed for between one and three years, impacting tens of thousands of those left waiting."

Ms Goodwin said some 26,000 crown court trials have piled up and are waiting to start, which is "more than twice the number than those which took place last year after Government cuts forced courtrooms to shut".

She said the Government's "destructive slashing" of justice system budgets had led to backlogs prior to the pandemic, noting that 12,473 trials with fixed dates last year were "simply bumped due to cuts to court sitting days, while perfectly good courtrooms were kept idle just to shave costs".

All ten locations aim to be operational by next month. The Court will operate in Peterborough from mid-August until February 2021.

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