CHESTER'S Nightingale Court has closed.

The Nightingale Court, which opened at the Grade II*-listed Chester Town Hall on October 19, 2020, had dozens of Crown Court cases heard at its two courtrooms.

Courtroom one was the traditional magistrates courtroom up until 1991, which in recent years had been used for conferences and seminars, but more famously was where ITV's Coronation Street filmed the trial of brothers David Platt and Nick Tilsley in 2019.

Courtroom two was the Town Hall's Assembly room, by some way the larger of the two rooms. It was where the Queen and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, had lunch following a visit to Storyhouse in June 2018.

Inside the Chester Town Hall Nightingale Courtroom 2. Photo taken with permission while the court was not sitting.

Inside the Chester Town Hall Nightingale Courtroom 2. Photo taken with permission while the court was not sitting.

But now a spokesperson for Her Majesty's Court and Tribunals Service has confirmed to The Standard the Nightingale Court at Chester Town Hall has heard its last case, as of Friday, May 14.

The spokesperson added it had long been planned to close the court by mid-May, and that Chester Town Hall has pre-existing bookings from late May, which will be held in the rooms which had been let out to HMCTS.

Dozens of Nightingale Courts had been set up to help tackle the backlog of crown court cases, which was already large even prior to the Covid pandemic but grew even more during the first lockdown, when very few cases could be heard at all.

In Chester, it was several months before courtrooms were adapted so juries could be safely and socially distanced so trials could take place.

Only in the past month has it been possible for magistrates court trials to be heard in Chester. Up until last month, such cases were heard at South Cheshire Magistrates Court in Crewe.

While the backlog of cases is understood to be largely cleared at magistrates court level in the Chester area, it can still take up to a year for a typical defendant pleading not guilty at a magistrates court to having their case tried before a jury at Chester Crown Court.

The situation is reportedly worse in other parts of the country, with trials listed for 2023 for some defendants.

AN HMCTS plan to help streamline cases, called 'Common Platform', has been rolled out this week at Chester Magistrates Court, having already been in operation at Chester Crown Court as part of a national roll-out started in March.

The Common Platform, HMCTS says, is a digital case management system designed to enable HMCTS staff, the judiciary, and professional court users, including defence and the Crown Prosecution Service, to use, manage and share criminal case information more effectively.

But the Public and Commercial Services Union has warned the roll-out, being done during Covid recovery times, is "inappropriate" given how significantly it affects their work and has the "potential to remove an unprecedented number of administrative roles", and has called for the roll-out to be paused.

It added that legal advisers in the magistrates courts have been concerned the extra administrative workload and change had impacted on their ability to give legal advice.

The HMCTS says that feedback from 'early adopter courts' has been used to 'refine, improve and implement' the future developments of the digital system.