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Late night courts proposal prompts solicitors’ anger

7th Apr 2017

Law professionals have threatened to hold the government accountable regarding its plans for courts to be open until 8.30pm, pointing out that they must recognise the burden of working ‘exceptionally late’ hours.

This has come shortly after HM Courts & Tribunals Service announced plans for a flexible working pilot at six courts in order to help it to understand how flexible hours affect court users. HMCTS will then determine whether the hours are sustainable.

The plan will begin in May over a six month period in six courts. Crown courts will stay open until 6pm, civil courts until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8.30pm.

The news has provoked widespread anger according to Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. She added that the plans are devastating to solicitors with parenting concerns, and that other external factors have not been considered, such as criminal courts being allowed to cover cases outside of normal working hours.

‘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,’ she said.

The Law Society has pointed out that the proposal would need thorough evaluation to asses the impact on workers, whilst the Bar Council echoed Gascoyne’s protests on behalf of working parents, as the new hours would make their jobs and routines ‘almost impossible’.

The Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) has promised that they will ‘look at these pilots to ensure our members are in a position to manage the additional burden of working such exceptionally late hours and at short notice’, according to their chair, Angela Hogan.