Law Society relieved as pilot project to extend court hours scaled down

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has downgraded the pilot project to extend court working hours, to the relief of the Law Society.

The extended operating hours pilots were originally due to start in May 2017, with HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) proposing to roll out the pilots over six months at six different courts across the country. The Law Society and other key stakeholders raised serious concerns over fundamental issues in execution, resource and methodology which caused previous plans to extend court hours to be suspended last September.

News that the MoJ has again scaled down plans is a “welcome indication the government is on its way to recognising the fragility of the legal aid sector”, says the Law Society.

President of the Law Society, Christina Blacklaws, commented that “HMCTS’ willingness to listen to the Law Society and address our members’ and other stakeholders’ concerns about trialling extended hours is encouraging.

“Now the plans have re-emerged without the inclusion of crime courts, we cautiously welcome the smaller scale of the trial. We acknowledge this is a pilot in two civil and family courts and that an independent evaluation will be carried out before any decisions are made about further roll-out. This gives welcome reassurance to our members, who need confidence that the eventual evaluation will be robust.

“Although participation is voluntary, we remain concerned that solicitors with children or other caring responsibilities as well as more junior practitioners and some religious groups may be disadvantaged by these longer hours. In addition, our own analysis indicates the extension of hours will increase the costs to the firms involved.”

HMCTS have taken on board the Law Society’s recommendation that legal aid solicitors are compensated through a pilot participation fee for court sessions requiring the attendance of a publicly funded legal representative outside of the hours of 9.00am - 17:30pm, although further details of this fee are yet to be released.

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