The figures are startling; the backlog of Crown Court cases is at 53,000 and rising… (correct as of 14th December 2020). The Justice system has been under sustained pressure for many years and the pandemic has done nothing but to exacerbate the issues that affects all areas of our society, from victims, to the accused, to their friends and families.
The Court Service (HMCTS) has previously attempted to respond to these challenges with various initiatives, but none quite like the use of ‘Nightingale Courts’. Much like their NHS counterparts, Nightingale facilities replicate the traditional court setting in often un-orthodox and alternative spaces. So far 25 additional courts have been opened and there are intentions to open more, increasing the throughput of cases whilst the existing estate remains constrained by social-distancing.
The opportunity lies not just within the practical benefits of increasing court or hospital capacity, but the lateral thinking behind such solutions. The Nightingale approach reflects an ‘out of the box’ level of thinking which is seldom seen or encouraged outside times of national crisis. Systemic issues such as backlogs have typically been on the side-lines of departmental priorities/initiatives; they are important but addressing them via traditional methods may not be efficient or affordable. The pandemic has focused a light on what can be achieved across government when new, creative and bold ideas are supported (and appropriately funded).
The Civil Service should encourage the continuation of this type of thinking, not only using the Nightingale model ‘post social-distancing’ (and applying it to different areas of government), but perhaps by establishing a Centre of Excellence that functions across all departments, analysing and promoting alternate ideas that do not follow the traditional ‘norms’ of the service. Ministers and Senior Leaders might particularly benefit from this diversification of the ‘idea pool’.