Tag Archive | "Blackfriars Crown court"

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.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Law UpdatesComments (0)

Extended court sittings


A new pilot scheme from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will introduce extra sittings at civil, crown, and magistrates’ courts to increase the number of cases seen each day.

The pilots are expected to begin in May, in six courts over six months. The six pilot courts are: Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown court; Sheffield and Highbury Corner magistrates’ court; and Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. The plans will see the crown court sit until 18:00, civil courts until 19:00, and magistrates until 20:30.

The ‘Gazette’ reports that a spokesperson for HMTCS said: “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.”

The HMCTS spokesperson said flexible operating hours are just one aspect of the government’s plans to transform the justice system, which include increased use of virtual hearings. “We are investing over £1bn to reform our courts to deliver swifter justice, that is modern, more accessible and better meets the needs of all court users. 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,” the spokesperson said.

The Bar Council has urged HMCTS to ensure that the impact on parents, and women in particular, is built into the evaluation criteria used to test the success of the pilots.

Quoted in ‘Solicitors Journal’, the chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, said the biggest impact of these changes will fall on women barristers. “These arrangements will make it almost impossible for parents with childcare responsibilities to predict if they can make the school run or to know when they will be able to pick children up from the child-minders,” he said.

He added: “Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children. It is hard to see how these plans sit with the government’s commitment to improving diversity in the profession and the judiciary. The profession and the judiciary must reflect the communities they serve. We need measures that will help women stay in the profession, rather than make it even more difficult to be a mother and a barrister at the same time.”

Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, said that previous experiments did not find sufficient benefits. “An effective pilot would have to maintain a clear focus on impact – whether on members of the public using the court service or professionals providing advice and representation. This includes advising people making or defending civil claims, those involved in criminal proceedings or family court services,” he said.

He added: “We welcome the assurance this pilot will be subject to a robust evaluation before any decision is taken to roll out the scheme. We look forward to getting more detail from HMCTS – both about the pilot and about how they will evaluate it.”

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal Justice, Law UpdatesComments (0)


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