Groups representing lawyers in England and Wales have reacted angrily to measures on courts announced yesterday (27 July) by Britain’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ), according to the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales.
The announcement followed the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions last week, and included a plan to resurrect extended court operating hours – a move the Gazette said could lead to legal action, or even a strike.
Longer opening hours option
The ministry said that judges would have the option to open courtrooms for longer under new “temporary operating hours”, proposing two models that would run alongside normal operating hours in the other courtrooms.
The ‘blended model’ would involve running two separate jury trials listed in one courtroom: one from 9am to 1pm, and one from 2pm to 6pm.
The ‘remote model’ would be for sessions held entirely remotely, with the hearing taking place outside of the standard 9am-5pm operating hours. These sessions would consist of non-trial work, such as pre-trial preparation hearings, mentions and sentencing.
The MoJ said this would benefit those with caring responsibilities, removing any commutes.
According to the Gazette, however, data published by HM Courts & Tribunals Service last year contradicted this. Court staff, judges and legal professionals who worked the afternoon session reported arriving home later in the evening, which affected their work-life balance.
The Gazette said that a separate survey by Women in Criminal Law highlighted the devastating impact that extending court operating hours would have on their health, work-life balance and careers.
“We remain concerned that extended hours will have a disproportionate impact on advocates with caring responsibilities,” Law Society President I Stephanie Boyce (pictured) said.
“Moreover, we are unsure how practical it will prove to implement such measures, given the demands this will place on court staff, judicial time and lawyers; or to what extent any extended sessions will actually increase available capacity in practice,” she added, calling on the judiciary to take account of court users’ views before proceeding with proposals for extended hours.
‘Time to strike’
High-profile anonymous blogger The Secret Barrister declared that it was “time to strike”.
In February, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) – which instructed heavyweight firm Mishcon de Reya to fight the extended hours – claimed the controversial scheme had been abandoned for the “foreseeable future”, although the MoJ said that it continued to be under review by the lord chancellor following last year’s consultation.
CBA Chair James Mulholland told the Gazette yesterday that the association was “reviewing all its options in close co-ordination with circuits, with the safety and welfare of criminal barristers foremost in mind”.
Other measures announced by the MoJ included the reopening of 60 Crown courtrooms, and the extension of leases on 32 ‘Nightingale’ (temporary) courts until April.