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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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