The UK at a glance in the second week of December 2020

The UK at a glance in the second week of December 2020

London Court crisis: The extent of the logjam in London’s courts was laid bare last week by new figures from the Metropolitan Police, showing that 227,000 victims and witnesses are waiting for their cases to be heard. In a letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that “justice is at a standstill” in the capital. There are currently about 51,000 cases waiting to be heard in Crown Courts across England and Wales, 46% more than in January. Two-thirds of them are expected to involve full trials. In magistrates courts, the backlog amounts to 489,226 cases, a rise of 56%. There has been talk of allowing “remote” juries – who watch the trial by video-link – to help clear the backlog. This system has been adopted in Scotland, using Odeon cinemas. There are also plans to prioritise rapid testing for courts.

Edinburgh Vaccine pressure: Residents of 11 Scottish council areas that were placed under the tightest Covid restrictions on 20 November, as part of a “short and sharp” effort to contain the virus, were told that they would all move out of Level 4 this week, as originally promised. Nicola Sturgeon said that most would go into Level 3. On Tuesday, her government confirmed that the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been delivered to NHS boards across Scotland, and that vaccinators were about to be given the first doses. After that, the focus will be on vaccinating the elderly residents of care homes, their carers and other frontline health workers. In the meantime, fast lateral flow Covid tests were being trialled at 14 care homes in Scotland. If the trial goes well, the tests will be sent out to all care homes from 14 December, in the hopes of facilitating visits by Christmas.

Grantham, Lincolnshire Maggie memorial: Council plans to underwrite the £100,000 cost of a ceremony to mark the unveiling of a statue of Margaret Thatcher in her home town have reignited deep divisions about the Iron Lady’s legacy. The 10ft-tall statue was offered to Grantham in 2018 after a proposal to erect it in Parliament Square was rejected. The council agreed last week to fund the cost of the event next year, saying the money would probably be recouped from donations – a decision critics described as an “insult” to struggling locals.

Liverpool Mayor arrested: The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, was arrested last week on suspicion of conspiring to commit bribery and witness intimidation. In a statement, the 62-year-old, who was later released on bail, said that he was “cooperating fully” with the investigation into the awarding of building contracts in the city. The Labour Party has suspended him pending the result of the inquiry. However, many Labour politicians have urged him to also step aside as mayor. “He can’t carry on,” said ex-minister Peter Kilfoyle. “The only conceivable thing to do now is to scrap the mayor’s office and to move to the old system of council leader and cabinet.” According to the BBC, Derek Hatton, the council’s former deputy leader, was arrested alongside Anderson.

Nottingham Market shut: A popular Christmas market in Nottingham was closed down last weekend, due to overcrowding. Winter Wonderland opened on Saturday and had been given council approval to run until Christmas Eve, despite residents’ concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the city, which is in Tier 3. But eight hours later, after photos of packed crowds were circulated on social media, its operators took the decision to close it again, citing “unprecedented” footfall. The next day, the council announced it would not be reopening, and apologised for licensing the event in the first place. “We thought we would support the economy in a managed way, but obviously it was not managed well enough,” said council official Dave Trimble.

Cardiff Lockdown warning: There were warnings this week that Wales could soon be back in lockdown owing to a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. Health Minister Vaughan Gething described the situation as “incredibly serious”, and suggested that ministers might even have to reconsider the agreed relaxation of restrictions around Christmas – though he added that he was “not convinced” that any change now would “lead to more people doing something different”. This week, there were more than 1,800 people in Welsh hospitals with confirmed or suspected coronavirus – 400 more than at the April peak. According to UK government statistics, on 1 December Wales had a seven-day case rate of 267.9 for every 100,000 people. That compared with 149.8 in England, 141.2 in Northern Ireland, and 100.4 in Scotland.

Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire Dahl apology: Thirty years after Roald Dahl’s death, the writer’s relatives have apologised for his anti-Semitism. In a statement posted on the Dahl website, the family expresses “deep” regret for the “lasting and understandable hurt” caused by his “prejudiced” remarks. In an interview in 1983, Dahl said that “there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity”, and claimed that “even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on [Jews] for no reason”.