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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Crown Court 'covid' hours: Have your say

Crown Court 'covid' hours: Have your say


The government is consulting directly with lawyers on its proposed covid operating hours in the crown courts, but responses must be submitted by 10 December

The government is consulting directly with lawyers on its proposed covid operating hours in the crown courts, but responses must be submitted by 10 December.

However, the Law Society has reiterated its long-held concerns, echoed by lawyers on the ground, around the adverse impact on court users if court hours are extended. 

Meanwhile, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the profession was effectively told that extended hours would go ahead from next January. 

Writing in his ‘Monday message’ this week, James Mulholland QC said: “HMCTS have failed to conduct a proper assessment in accordance with their legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010. 

“The consultation process now initiated provides insufficient time for proper representations to be made.”

He said the CBA will “take action” if necessary.

In its “short, targeted” consultation with legal professionals, HM Courts & Tribunals (HMCTS) said it will focus on key findings from the assessment of the pilots of covid operating hours, together with a proposal to widen the use of ‘covid hours’ across more courts.

In recent weeks, HMCTS has been touting its so-called “four pillars to recovery” in its covid-19 response, including further maximising the use of the existing courts estate by longer opening hours.

One proposal – the ‘blended’ model – would see the courts opening from 9am to 6pm with a ‘handover’ at 1pm. 

But the Society’s president David Greene said: “The government proposed extended court hours several times before the pandemic and our view has not changed – extending court hours would have a significant impact on court users, legal practitioners and how our justice system functions.” 

He said many court users with caring responsibilities will not be able to attend hearings outside of normal hours which will, he warned, unfairly impact them. 

Greene warned it could also “lead to these practitioners losing cases and income during an already precarious time”.  

One anonymous lawyer involved in the pilot is quoted in the consultation document: “By the end of the two weeks I was exhausted. 

“I wasn't getting home until gone 8pm. I can’t help with childcare [because of working the PM court] and my child is in bed when I get home.”

Out of 52 legal professionals pilot participants who responded to an HMCTS survey, 40 per cent rated their experience as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.  

However, the final report on the pre-covid flexible operating hours pilot has still not been published. 

The Society wants government to publish it before considering any wider roll out.

Greene commented: “Before looking at extended hours the government must ensure that it is making maximum use of normal court hours and the existing court estate, quickly take up further building space and avoid any restrictions on judges sitting while there are court rooms (real, virtual or Nightingale) available.  
“If the government does conclude that extended hours are essential in order to address the backlog in the courts, it is vital they take steps to address the various adverse impacts that have been identified.”

Written responses from lawyers to the consultation are requested by 10 December.