Blackfriars Crown Court flogged for a reported £65 million in 2019
A recently sold crown court has been hired as a set to film legal scenes for Netflix’s Top Boy, it has emerged, all while the criminal case backlog continues to mount amid the coronavirus pandemic.
London’s Blackfriars Crown Court was shuttered and sold to private developers for a reported £65 million in 2019. As it awaits redevelopment into swish new office space complete with a ‘sky forest’, it has been let out for filming and photography for the past nine months. The production company behind hit Netflix drama Top Boy used the site to film fictional courtroom scenes last week, according to media reports.
It is understood the 28-year-old purpose-built courthouse has barely been touched since it was rehoused in another building, much to the chagrin of criminal barristers. “It’s not like the criminal justice system could use seven functioning courtrooms round about now,” wrote Sarah Allen, a criminal barrister, on Twitter, while Nick Barraclough of 2 Bedford Row said the space “would be perfect for socially-distanced trials now”.
Her Majesty’s Court & Tribunal Service has said it enquired about using the building for its original purpose, but determined that it would only be available for a short period of time and did not represent value for money.
The latest government figures show the criminal case backlog hit 457,518 in November. The number of ongoing cases in crown courts was 44% higher in December compared with February last year, while some cases are being scheduled as far as 2022.
The Ministry of Justice has also put money towards opening emergency ‘Nightingale courts’ to deal with the growing backlog of cases. So far only two have opened, with the first, Prospero House, located less than half a mile away from Blackfriars Crown Court, and costing several hundred thousands of pounds to set-up.
The Bar Council last week called for a cash injection of an extra £55 million to improve the court system, and to create 42 more Nightingale courts so hearings could progress safely and to help clear the backlog.
Speaking to The Sun, Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “In light of mounting backlogs in courts across the country, made worse by the COVID-19 crisis, it is absurd not to be using every purpose-built courtroom to hear cases. More court space is essential to bringing down the backlog.
“The Bar Council recently called on the Treasury to provide 42 more Nightingale courts to ensure that hearings can progress safely through the pandemic. Allowing real courts to be used as a film set, is a missed opportunity which will dismay victims of crime facing longs delays while they wait for a hearing.”