COVID & THE BACKLOG; Wales Governance Centre Webinar, 30th June 2020

jonerees

Although COVID-19 was yet to surface, the issue of underfunding was very much raised by

the Commission on Justice in Wales. Some of the recommendations of the Commission have

been picked up by others, coincidentally or not, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Having noted that the court estate in Wales had meandered for some time without any

discernible strategy, the Commission recommended that a court estate strategy for Wales

should be identified and that that strategy should take into account the occasional use of

buildings to house judicial proceedings.

At paragraph 8.31 of the Report, the Commission noted that:

“until well into the second half of the 20 th Century, courts sat in buildings that had

other purposes and were used from time to time as courts. One example was the use

of the Council Chamber in the Swansea City Civic Buildings. In Wales, we see the return

to the use of such buildings, sometimes referred to as ‘pop up’ courts, as a necessary

part of the strategy”.

The return to the use of such buildings as courts may happen sooner than the Commission

envisaged.

Part of the collaborative work that has taken place in Wales has been multi-agency

investigation into the use of Cardiff City Hall and the Swansea City Civic Buildings for use as

‘Nightingale’ or, as the Lord Chancellor would prefer to call them, ‘Blackstone’ Courts.

That collaborative work commenced earlier, has gone beyond that taken elsewhere and

indeed has been used for modelling in other parts of the jurisdiction. And it will bear fruit, we

hope, when the Lord Chancellor announces the location of the first ten sites for Blackstone

Courts shortly - another achievement that all can be proud of in Wales, demonstrative of our

ability in Wales to work together and ‘get things done’.

There is one further issue on the horizon that may need particular thought. The reserved

nature of criminal justice has meant that the challenges posed by COVID-19 to the criminal

justice system have been met thus far with “all England & Wales” solutions. We may yet find,

however, divergence in the conditions in which the Crown Court must operate. Whilst justice

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