WINCHESTER Guildhall is being converted into a temporary court to help clear the huge backlog of cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that the historic building is being turned into one of 16 Nightingale Courts across England and Wales.

An MoJ spokesperson said: "Winchester Guildhall will open its doors as a Nightingale Court this week, as part of the government’s plan to tackle the impact of coronavirus on the justice system.

"The new site provides three extra courtrooms that will carry out civil work, such as small claims hearings.

"It will help to free up three courtrooms for jury trials at Winchester Combined Court."

Nightingale Courts are among the measures that have been introduced to ensure courts recover from the pandemic as soon as possible.

This follows a recent £80m investment in the courts system to fund the recruitment of 1,600 new staff to support the recovery.

Courts Minister Chris Philp said: “I am grateful to the Guildhall for joining the national effort to reduce delays and deliver speedier justice for victims.

“This is the latest step in our tireless work with the judiciary and legal sector in pursuing every available option to ensure our courts recover as quickly as possible.”

Winchester City Council leader, Cllr Lucille Thompson, added: "One of our highest priorities at the moment is to help our high streets recover, and so I am delighted that HM Courts and Tribunals have signed an agreement with the City Council to use the Guildhall as a Nightingale Court for the next nine months.

“Not only will this help our local economy and businesses by driving up footfall and bringing people back to the centre, but it also ensures that one of our very special buildings is being made use of during these challenging times.”

The new Nightingale Courts can provide an extra 29 courtrooms.

The MoJ spokesperson said: "Since August, magistrates’ courts have been sitting on Saturdays, amounting to around 100 extra court sessions a month, dealing with thousands of cases.

"Magistrates’ courts are also now consistently completing more cases than they are receiving, reducing their outstanding caseload as a result.

"Some 250 crown court rooms will be available for jury trials in the coming weeks following the roll out of Plexiglass screens to more than 200 court rooms and 100 jury deliberation rooms.

"Meanwhile, a major £153minvestment across the courts system announced in July will speed up technological improvements and modernise courtrooms."