Long welcomes first hearing at Nightingale venue to support courts and tribunals

Date published: 18 January 2021

Justice Minister Naomi Long today welcomed the holding of a Coroner’s Court in Northern Ireland’s Nightingale venue for facilitating courts and tribunals.

Picture of Naomi Long

The inquest was the first hearing of any kind to take place at Belfast’s International Convention Centre (ICC) at the Waterfront Hall since it became a Nightingale venue on January 4, 2021.

Prior to today, the ICC hosted jury empanelment.

Naomi Long said: “The holding of an inquest at the ICC Nightingale venue is another significant milestone in our effort to ensure that courts and tribunals can continue to operate safely and effectively during the pandemic.

“The facilities at the ICC are such that they can safely accommodate a hearing of this kind within the current public health requirements for two metre social distancing. Other Covid safety measures are in place such as the provision of hand gel dispensers and the wearing of face coverings in the courtroom.

“One of the advantages of the ICC as a venue for inquests is that it will increase capacity for inquests so more family members will be able to ascertain the cause of death of their loved one.”

In light of the new Covid restrictions introduced by the Executive for six weeks from December 26 and the additional measures introduced on January 7, all NICTS activity at the ICC is being phased in and is only taking place after it has been subject to all necessary risk assessments in consultation with the Public Health Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and other statutory agencies.

It is envisaged that in addition to inquests and jury empanelment, tribunals business such as welfare appeals will be held at the venue once it is deemed safe to go ahead and a pre-consultation space will be provided for legal representatives and their clients.

Coroner Paddy McGurgan said: “This is an excellent venue which provides the space for hearings to take place in a Covid-safe way. Inquests are an essential part of the justice system that provide a means of investigating the circumstances into how a person died. An inquest can be traumatic for families but it can also provide answers which may help with the grieving process.

“We can hopefully reduce some of that trauma by ensuring that inquests can now proceed without any further avoidable delay. I would like to thank the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service for getting this venue up and running.”

Notes to editors: 

1. When lockdown initially occurred in March 2020, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, in conjunction with the Office of the Lord Chief Justice, initially operated hubs for a limited number of physical hearings. Remote and hybrid court hearings were also conducted. All Coroner’s Court business halted between April 2020 and August 2020.

2. By September 2020, 16 NICTS venues reopened, with jury trials resuming in six Courthouses– Laganside, Craigavon, Newry, Dungannon, Coleraine and Antrim after significant adaptations were made to courtrooms to provide protection for all court users from Covid-19.

3. Coroner’s Court business resumed in August 2020, with a combination of remote, physical and in-person hearings.

4. Nightingale venues have been introduced in England and Wales to support Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service’s efforts to reduce the backlog of criminal, civil, family and tribunal cases which built up in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

5. To enable NICTS to use external conference facilities in Northern Ireland as Nightingale venues, the Executive has amended the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.

6. The International Convention Centre (ICC) Belfast was chosen as the most suitable Nightingale venue after a trawl was conducted by NICTS of the central and local government estate in Belfast in conjunction with the Strategic Investment Board,(SIB) Land and Property Services (LPS) and the Departmental Solicitor’s Office.(DSO)

7. Significant discussions and engagement took place with Belfast City Council and BWUH Ltd, the company under which ICC Belfast and sister entertainment brands, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall operate.

8. Technical due diligence was completed with the assistance of the LPS on the basis of a commercial rental property transaction before the contract was concluded. The contract will initially run until the 31 March 2021

9. A £29.5m extension to the venue was unveiled in 2016. The redevelopment was funded by Belfast City Council, Tourism NI and the European Regional Development Fund. 

10. ICC Belfast contains a 2,200-seat auditorium, two interconnecting multi-purpose halls spanning over 2,500m2, a 380-seat studio, 20 meeting rooms for 10 to 200 delegates, gallery and bar areas, two exterior terraces with stunning riverside views of the Lagan and a dedicated riverside entrance leading to a 660m2 reception area.

11. Currently, there are no other plans for Nightingale venues to support courts and tribunals business outside of Belfast. However, NICTS and the Office of the Lord Chief Justice are keeping the situation under constant review.

12. For all media enquiries, please contact the Press Office via email at press.office@justice-ni.gov.uk

13. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

14. Follow us on twitter @Justice_NI

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