MPs have asked the government to urgently repair dilapidated court buildings, as the repair bill reaches £1 billion.
A justice committee report out today states that existing courtrooms should be shut for critical repairs whilst temporary court buildings remain open.
Courtrooms being unavailable as they are in no fit state to use is adding to the existing backlog of cases, according to the report. At the same time, numbers of judges, magistrates and court staff have also reduced, with agency staff taking on major roles.
The introduction of Nightingale courts during the pandemic was a success but the backlog across criminal, family and county courts has reached critical levels.
By the end of March, almost 59,000 cases were outstanding in the crown court and more than 83,000 private family law cases in the family court.
Committee chair Sir Bob Neill MP said: “The physical estate has been left to crumble for too long and must be made fit for purpose. There must be sufficient numbers of judicial and clerical staff to cope with the volume of cases. The court system is creaking and there needs to be coherent, consistent planning to fix it.”
The overall repair bill has reached £1 billion and has been hit hard by the need to run heating and ventilation systems more during the Covid restrictions.
The committee wants a new focus on plugging gaps in the judiciary and also recommends that HMCTS pay levels keep up with the rest of the civil service. The report calls on the government to develop and deliver a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of the court estate over several years. It also recommends the establishment of a courts’ inspectorate.