Plans to introduce evening court hearings questioned by solicitors and barristers
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Plans by the government to extend the hours at which courts are open to as late as 8:30pm have been met with resistance from across the legal profession.
A pilot scheme is due to commence at six courts in May, in order to assess the viability of this way of working. As the Law Gazette reports, the scheme will see crown courts open until 6:00pm, civil courts open until 7:00pm and magistrate’s courts open until 8:30pm. However, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA) has expressed concerns that the plans discriminate against solicitors with childcare commitments and that defence solicitors were not properly consulted by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which is overseeing the pilot. Concerns over childcare have also been echoed by the Law Society, the Association of Women Solicitors and the Bar Council. Meanwhile, there is also widespread concern that no attention has so far been paid to how already-stretched firms will make arrangements to pay solicitors to attend these after-hours hearings.
Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the CLSA, said: “Both sides of the profession are facing further cuts and it is inconceivable that defence practitioners will make themselves available without any consideration as to how they will be remunerated. If legal representation isn’t made available during the extended hours then this restricts access to justice. It is about time that government agencies recognised the fundamental importance of defence practitioners, without whom the system would grind to an expensive halt.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice has insisted that the plans won’t be implemented nationally without proper assessment of their impact. A spokesperson said: “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.”