Manchester is set to see the introduction of a new ‘super courtroom’ designed to provide more space to hold large trials.
The modified larger courtroom – which is coming to Manchester Crown Court, within the existing Crown Square site – is set to be the first of its kind in the UK, and will be created with the intention of providing additional space to hold complex “multi-hander” cases.
Multi-hander cases are cases usually involving multiple defendants being tried together, and the types of cases cited by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as likely to be held include gang murder trials.
This is the latest scheme to be announced as the criminal justice system responds to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The introduction of the new super courtroom facility comes amid England’s third national lockdown, and after ongoing restrictions and social distancing measures over the past 11 months of the pandemic have meant that the court system has faced a number of challenges in accommodating large trials.
At a recent Manchester Crown Court murder trial with four defendants, for example, the accused were held in docks in two separate court rooms, with two in one court and two in another.
A second courtroom then followed the trial by video link, from the court where the judge and jury were present, and such trials often also need to employ a third courtroom, which is used as the jury’s deliberation room.
That’s not the only new court coming to Manchester either.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has also announced this week that another new ‘Nightingale court’ will also be set up at The Hilton Hotel – located in the Beetham Tower on Deansgate – in an effort to “reduce delays” and “deliver speedier justice for victims”, while also “providing a financial boost to the venues”.
This new Manchester Hilton site will mostly hear non-custodial Crown Court cases.
Alongside several other new UK locations, the Manchester Hilton will bring the total number of Nightingale courtrooms – which were set up across the country to enable more socially-distanced trials – to 60 by the end of March 2021.
“We have achieved an immense amount in our battle to keep justice moving during the pandemic,” the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, said.
“Restarting jury trials before anyone else, turbo-charging the rollout of video technology, bringing magistrates’ backlogs down, and opening more courtrooms for jury trials [and now] these new courts are the latest step in that effort.
“I am determined to minimise delays and ensure justice is served for victims, defendants and the public.
“[And] that is why we are investing hundreds of millions to drive this recovery further, deliver swifter justice and support victims”.
Both of Manchester’s new super courtroom and Nightingale court form part of a UK-wide £113 million investment to “alleviate pressures on courts and tribunals”, which has so far included the recruiting 1,600 extra staff, the deployment of further technology, and on-site safety precautions such as plexiglass screens.
The MoJ confirms that this is also on top of the £142 million being spent to speed up technological improvements and modernise courtrooms.
You can find more information via the gov.uk website here.
‘Significant risk’ of UK gas shortages this winter, regulator warns
Energy regulator Ofgem has warned that the UK faces a ‘significant risk’ of gas shortages this winter.
According to reports in The Times, the regulator has unveiled concerns that the country could face blackouts over the coming months thanks to an undersupply of gas to Europe caused by Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Warning that a “gas supply emergency” could be looming ahead, the energy regulator has said that some gas-fired power plants could see their supplies cut off, which in turn would stop generators from producing electricity.
The alert comes just days before an expected update from the National Grid on the likelihood of countrywide power cuts this winter.
Responsing to arequest from SSE, which owns several gas power stations, Ofgem outlined what is set to be a huge issue of concern given that the UK relies on large gas plants to produce the biggest share of its electricity supply.
The regulator also pointed to rules that could see power plants penalised as a result of shortages, warning of a worst-case scenario that would see the “potential insolvency of gas-fired generators” caused by rules that require plants to pay huge charges if they fail to deliver on promised quotas.
Adding that the issue must be addressed to prevent a “significant impact on the safety and security of the electricity and/or gas systems”, the regulator echoed concerns now widespread in Europe as its comments followed a similar statement made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) this morning.
Europeans are already being told they must lower their thermostats and boilers in preparation in case gas supplies are cut off, with Paris-based agency IEA warning today that the EU must focus on getting underground gas reserve levels to 90% of capacity in case of a complete Russian supply shut-off.
Preparation are already being made in Europe with the German government having approved a set of energy-saving measures for the winter to limit use in public buildings. In France, meanwhile, companies have already been warned they may face energy rationing this winter.
Whilst the UK government is yet to announce any energey saving measures, Ofgem has said that it expect s“this winter to be more challenging than last year” and that it is taking “reasonable regulatory steps to mitigate and reduce the risks”.