Questions about the criminal justice system were raised in the agenda for the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, with Peterborough City Council (PCC) Acting Police and Crime Commissioner Jim Haylett looking at the challenges that came with Covid-19 and the national lockdown.
Commissioner Haylett was questioned the ability to deliver swift justice, queried the ongoing delays to court cases and whether it is a cause for concern, and looked at whether the disengagement as a result is also a risk.
It was explained by Commissioner Haylett that there have been backlogs at both Peterborough courts, and while the Magistrates Court has been able to deal with the backlog, the Crown Court is still experiencing challenges.
He explained that the arise in challenges is due to the amount of people involved in running a trial and ensuring that social distancing can be adhered to while ensuring the court rooms are Covid secure.
Though he added that Cambridgeshire is in a stronger position than many with two operational Crown Courts with the potential of a third court from January 2021.
The Cambridgeshire Criminal Justice Board (CCJB) has also been meeting often throughout the pandemic. Commissioner Haylett said: "The CCJB governance structure has seen the CCJB Efficiency Group, chaired by HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), meeting fortnightly and the CCJB Delivery Group, chaired by the Assistant Chief Constable, meeting monthly to oversee the recovery of the criminal justice system locally and the risks the change in working practices creates to the delivery of swift justice.
"The CCJB, chaired by the Acting Commissioner, has met on three separate occasions and maintains oversight of the work of the sub-groups. These multi-agency forums bring Criminal Justice partners together and include representation from HMCTS, Crown Prosecution Service, Police, National Probation Service, Youth Offending Service, and the Witness Service.
"The CCJB Delivery Group is also exception reporting into the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) to ensure that wider partners are appraised of the criminal justice landscape. 15 In addition to local meetings, both the Acting Commissioner and the OPCC Senior Criminal Justice Policy Manager are attending an array of national meetings.
"These include a fortnightly local criminal justice board chair’s meeting (LCJB), National Criminal Justice Board meetings and national HMCTS recovery planning meetings."
This year, trials have been adjourned due to the backlog, with Commissioner Haylett noting that it is likely to have an impact on the emotional wellbeing of victims and witnesses.
He added: "The Victim & Witness Hub is engaged with those victims/witnesses who have been affected by these delays. This has created additional pressure on the department and this is being reviewed by the Constabulary. The Cambs Victims Service website is being kept up to date with local court information and support services to support those affected.
"The Acting Commissioner has sought the Chief Constable’s response to the issue of court delays, what action is being taken, and discussed the consequential impact on victims at several Board meetings over the last few months."
In order to help with the backlog this year, the Knight's Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral was selected as one of the 'Nightingale Courts' to help ease the pressure on the justice system caused by Covid-19.
These temporary courts will begin hearing cases in order to tackle the number of cases outstanding due to the outbreak.
The new courts will cover civil, family and tribunals work as well as non-custodial crime cases, freeing up room in existing courts to hear other cases.
The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, said: “We are proud that the Knights’ Chamber is among the first venues to be selected by the Ministry of Justice as a Nightingale Court, and glad that we are able to help support this critically important work. The 13th century building has served many purposes in its time and this will add another layer to its long history.
"Attending court can be a very anxious time for people and we hope that some of those who come might also find a moment of peace and tranquillity in the Cathedral, whilst they are here.”
It is expected that the court will operate in Peterborough until February 2021.