Courts

Ministry of Justice written question – answered at on 23 April 2024.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what the unused court capacity was in each year since 2015.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

HMCTS had the following number of sessions recorded as either available or unavailable since 2015:

Period

Available verified sessions

Unavailable verified sessions

FY 15-16

1,552,490

42,692

FY 16-17

1,512,424

36,811

FY 17-18

1,387,270

37,598

FY 18-19

1,347,648

36,507

FY 19-20

1,302,006

38,408

FY 20-21

1,062,856

130,071

FY 21-22

1,277,033

86,511

FY 22-23

1,277,981

42,665

FY 23-24

1,281,838

48,201

A ‘session’ represents the time that court/hearing room space is available, with up to two sessions available each day. Available and unavailable sessions are recorded for all jurisdictions.

HMCTS record a session being unavailable for a number of reasons, including important alternative uses. For example:

  • box work
  • case-related unavailability
  • commercial use (e.g., filming)
  • community engagement
  • where the room is connected to chambers which are in use
  • court closures due to severe weather or security incidents, holidays (not public holiday) or formerly due to COVID
  • external meetings (e.g., Court User Group)
  • use for external organisations (e.g., Coroner)
  • Judges office, meeting space, mentoring and/or reading time
  • maintenance work
  • mediation (parties present)
  • overspill (in support of a hearing taking place elsewhere)
  • room closed due to COVID outbreak
  • staff meetings and/or training
  • video link being used for other matter

HMCTS’ Courtroom Planner performance database was introduced in April 2015 to collect information on the availability of courtrooms. The data was suspended in April 2020 due to COVID disruption and resumed in September 2020. The data between April and August 2020 is therefore incomplete.

The amount of time we use our available estate for hearings is also connected to the funded number of sitting days in any one year, and the availability of key participants such as judiciary and legal professionals.

To maintain session levels, we are investing £220m in the two years to March 2025 for essential maintenance and repair work across the estate to ensure we are keeping as many courtrooms open as possible to hear more cases. This two-year capital maintenance allocation enables us to plan major estate projects in advance and with certainty. Maintenance funding is prioritised to sites that need it most, and this investment is a step forward in improving the quality of the court estate. We have a planned pipeline of future works to improve the resilience and quality of the court estate, and this is kept under regular review.

We have also introduced additional measures to speed up justice for victims and improve the justice system, including:

o Extending 20 Nightingale courtrooms beyond March 2024 to provide additional capacity in the court estate. o Investing in judicial recruitment since 2017 which has resulted in the annual recruitment of approximately 1000 judges and tribunal members across all jurisdictions. In particular, this has led to an overall increase in the number of judges in the Crown Court.

Please note all data provided is internal and subject to data quality issues inherent in any large-scale manual system.

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