By Rebecca Black, PA
Nightingale court facilities in Northern Ireland have been extended for another three months.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said the International Convention Centre (ICC) Belfast is being utilised as a venue for Covid-safe court and tribunal proceedings.
She said work is ongoing to reduce the backlog of cases built up prior to and during the pandemic.
Ms Long said there were 8,000 criminal cases in the court system before the first lockdown last year, which rose to 12,800 when restrictions limited court operations.
“The most recent real-time management information indicates that that figure now stands at around 10,500 cases, which is a significant achievement,” she said.
“With the reopening of more courts, there have been more cases disposed by the courts than received and the caseload has reduced.”
(Justice Minister Naomi Long)
Ms Long added: “The ICC Belfast has played a crucial role in ensuring that our courts have been able to operate safely in the city for all court users.
“The venue has enabled NICTS (Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service) to ensure that inquests can go ahead safely with in-person and hybrid hearings that deploy courtroom technology.
“Juror assembly has taken place in the venue. Consultation spaces for lawyers and their clients attending court have been available since March offering the chance for parties to resolve disputes before court proceedings take place. Back office staff in NICTS have also moved into the building.”
Ms Long said later this month the Small Claims Court and the Appeals Service will also hold hearings at the venue.
The contract will run until the end of June 2021, after which the requirements will be reviewed.
Meanwhile work is also under way to increase the number of Crown Court venues with two additional adapted courtrooms opening in Laganside Courts in Belfast and another due for completion to mid-April.
On completion of adaptations to a further courtroom in mid-April, Laganside Courts will be able to accommodate up to five jury trials – three of which may be multi-defendant.
Three further Crown Court venues are also due to come into operation after Easter in Dungannon, Antrim and Newry.