Categorized | Criminal Justice, Law Updates

Late night courts

Late night courts

Last month HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced that it was planning to test late night courts this month in an effort to understand how to make the system more flexible for all users.

The pilot is planned to take place in six courts over six months. Under the scheme, Crown courts at Newcastle and Blackfriars will be open until 6pm, civil courts in Brentford and Manchester until 7pm and magistrates’ courts in Sheffield and Highbury, London, until 8.30pm.

A spokesperson for HMCTS was reported as saying: “We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people. These pilots will help us understand how flexible hours affect all court users and will be fully evaluated before any decision is taken on rollout.”

Then came the announcement of a general election and the trial was postponed. It is a fair bet that the majority of the legal profession hope that the postponement is permanent.

The Law Society pointed out that the pilot will rely on the assistance of lawyers who have already been subject to public funding cuts and a flood of civil justice reforms in recent weeks, and warned that any proposal would require robust evaluation to assess the impact.

The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association (CLSA) said that the announcement of the pilot scheme had been met with anger by criminal practitioners, saying that the absence of defence practitioners from the planning group “is staggering when you consider that they are essential to the smooth running of the justice system. To exclude the very people who ensure that defendants are properly represented and that justice is done is most concerning.”

The CLSA go on to say: “The prison service is currently in crisis and will be faced with dealing with prisoners having to be conveyed and booked into the prisons of an evening. The probation service will need to make officers available at extra cost as will HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service, mental health services and social services. Access to justice will be restricted as the “project” has seemingly failed to consider how legal representation will be made available.”

A leading chambers, Garden Court North Chambers has warned the government that remaining goodwill from barristers is running at ‘dangerously low levels.’ In a statement released this month the Manchester set condemns the idea and warns that ministers should no longer rely on lawyers to toe the line.

The Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the scheme is “misconceived, impractical, an inefficient use of time and inimical to anyone with care responsibilities.” Such schemes have been trialled before and none ended well. He went on to say that the scheme will mean barristers having to work in court far later than they presently do with a serious knock on effect on their ability to prepare that evening for the next day’s cases.

The view of the CBA is that the scheme threatens to have a serious impact on the family lives of barristers who already work long hours. Many have direct childcare responsibilities which make working until 7pm or later in court completely impractical. As the bulk of childcare falls on the shoulders of women lawyers this scheme is likely to be discriminatory.

The future of this proposal is now dependent on who becomes lord chancellor. The record of recent incumbents of that post does not bode well.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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