£2.7 million has been spent to revamp Loughborough Magistrates’ Court – creating a space that is much larger than a usual courtroom. It will host trials for offences that have a large number of defendants including county lines drug trafficking, murders, and money laundering – starting with a nine-defendant murder trial that begins today. The new `Super Court’ may well handle crash-for-cash and similar large scale insurance frauds, where several defendants are involved, often related or known to each other.
So-called ‘multi-hander’ cases – which involve three or more defendants and accounted for almost a fifth of all trials waiting to be heard in mid-October – have built up during the pandemic as they have been harder to hear with social distancing measures in place.
The ‘super courtroom’ will create the space needed to hear these trials and free up capacity elsewhere in the courts system, allowing up to an extra 250 cases a year to be heard across England and Wales.
The court is the second of its kind following another in Manchester which opened its doors in September. The facility will make best use of HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) rapid rollout of remote technology since the pandemic hit. More importantly, it allows vulnerable witnesses and victims to relay their evidence from outside the courtroom, reducing the distress caused by being in the same room as the defendants.
This comes as £1billion has been allocated to the Ministry of Justice in the Spending Review to boost capacity and accelerate post-pandemic recovery. Nearly half of this will help deliver the swift access to justice that victims deserve – improving waiting times and reducing court backlogs.
Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, said:
This new super courtroom will be an important asset as we start to reduce the backlog. It will free up space elsewhere in our court estate – allowing us to hear up to 250 extra cases every year.
It forms part of our broader plan to build back better from the pandemic, investing £500 million to reduce waiting times and speed up the delivery of justice for victims.
Today’s announcement forms part of the significant action taken since the start of the pandemic to ensure the courts can recover from the pandemic and tackle delays. This includes:
- investing a quarter of a billion pounds to support recovery in the courts in the last financial year – plus over £50 million for victims and support services
- ensuring there is no limit on the number of sitting days the Crown Court can sit this year
- setting up Nightingale courtrooms across the country to increase capacity and ensure more trials can be heard – with a commitment to extend 32 Crown courtrooms that deal with criminal trials until the end of March 2022
- opening 3,265 Cloud Video Platform virtual courtrooms across all jurisdictions. These currently hold around 13,600 hearings per week using audio and/or video hearings
The impact of these measures is already being seen. The number of outstanding cases has dropped by around 80,000 in the magistrates’ court since its peak in July 2020, while the caseload in Crown Court has stabilised in recent months.