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Ensuring our justice system fits the needs of those it serves

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil, Court and tribunal reform, Crime, User experience and research

[English] - [Cymraeg]

Many people find the justice system difficult to navigate, slow, and restrictive. We want to make it work better, by building it around the needs of our citizens. Being able to do things more flexibly, more often online, and outside office hours matters to everyone using the justice system, and particularly to many vulnerable users, and to litigants in person. We are bringing forward changes to provide a more open and accessible justice system that is quicker, easier and more efficient for those who use it, those who work in it and those who pay for it. These include moving from paper-based to digital systems to streamlined case management, moving some existing court and tribunal activity online, and introducing virtual hearings so that people can give evidence and engage with courts without having to travel to the court itself. These and other changes are already being introduced – and are beginning to make a positive impact. You can see more about other changes we’re making on the Inside HMCTS blog and in this animation.

Flexible Operating Hours pilots

As part of our programme of reform, we are also looking at options to use court and tribunal buildings in a more flexible way, letting people have their cases heard outside the current traditional 10am to 4:30pm court day.

By exploring different working hours, we want to address some of the observations made in Sir Brian Leveson’s review into improving efficiency in criminal cases. Sir Brian said in his report, “It is notable that the operational hours of our court buildings have remained the same for decades. This must be one of the few public services which have failed to acknowledge the different ways that members of the public now live their lives and, in consequence, adapt to the different working environment.”

That’s why we will be piloting flexible operating hours in six places in the autumn. The pilots will explore how we can use our buildings better, and give court users more options when they need to come to court, by sitting different cases at different times. Because the different slots would be for different cases, lawyers and judges wouldn’t have longer days in court – they would have similar hours, but at different times.

Location of the pilots

We are trying different approaches in different courts. The pilots will take place over six months at Blackfriars Crown Court, Brentford County Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Newcastle Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates’ Court.

  • In Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown Courts, we will run one session between 9:30am and 1:30pm; and then another session (for different cases) from 2pm to 6pm
  • In Blackfriars, we will also try a version of this where the morning is used for Crown Court cases; and the afternoon for magistrates’ court cases
  • In another courtroom in Blackfriars, we will test hearing magistrates’ court cases between 9am and 11am, with Crown Court cases from 11:30am to 5:30pm
  • In Sheffield and Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Courts, we will test holding three magistrates’ courts sessions each day. In Sheffield, we will test an early start (8am to 11am, 12pm to 3pm and 3:30pm to 6.30pm); and in Highbury Corner, we will test a later finish (10am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm and 5:30pm to 8.30pm)
  • In Manchester and Brentford, in the Civil and Family Court, we will test adding either an early or a late slot onto the current court day that will deal with particular kinds of work that lend themselves to a shorter, more flexible slot (the early slot being 8am to 10:30am; and the later one being 4:30pm to 7pm)

We have worked closely with judges and a range of organisations to design the pilots. We have learnt from courts and tribunals where we have already run more flexible operating hours, with evening hearings in Employment Tribunals, and Saturday sittings in magistrates’ courts and Social Security Tribunals. We have also learnt from previous pilots like the three-month pilot we ran in Nottingham last year, with hearings between 5pm and 7.30pm. Our civil pilots will build on this experience.

We’ve also learnt from previous pilots in Crown and magistrates courts, as well as looking at how courts in the US, Australia and Singapore operate similar, and much more radical, arrangements successfully. They already allow people to come to court and have their cases heard over a much wider range of times.

Listening to your views on the pilots

There are a range of views about the impact of changing current working hours on legal professionals who work within the system.

We have heard from some that moving to a more flexible system, if well managed, could offer more opportunities for those with childcare and other caring responsibilities and that, by enabling legal professionals to work more effectively - accessing and progressing cases in a different way and at different times of the day – we would reduce the need to travel or wait around at court for hours.

Others, however, have argued that such a change might increase the unpredictability of workloads and so have the reverse effect. That’s why it is so important that we test changes of this sort in a small number of courts and tribunals, so we can properly understand the impact before any wider decisions are taken.

Realising benefits would not come automatically just from more flexible hours – it would need work and commitment on a range of things such as ways of working in courts and tribunals, how cases are scheduled for hearing, and how we can do this more responsively but also more predictably. With these considerations in mind, we think it is important that we do a proper and fair test, looking squarely at both risks and opportunities for all involved, and the new tools we would need to support a more responsive scheduling and listing of cases.

First and foremost, we must consider how we can deliver open and accessible justice to people – and test whether offering more flexible hours allows us to do better by them. Second, it is also right that we keep on testing whether we can use our courts more efficiently. It costs some £300m a year just to run the current court and tribunal estate. If using our buildings more efficiently (whether through flexible hours, or in other ways) saved just 10% of that cost, the £30m released could pay for the running costs of 4,000 Crown Court trials, or 5,000 care hearings. Keeping expensive buildings empty before 10am and after 4:30pm, rather than having fewer, better-maintained buildings open for longer hours, has a real cost. And third, we want to use this work as a spur to collaborate on new and different ways to think about diverse working patterns, for our own staff, and for partners and professionals across the justice system.

Court Double Shift Sittings - Evaluation Report

Next steps for the pilots

Our justice system is admired across the world. It has never stood still and has adapted successfully to great changes throughout its history. The wider changes we are bringing forward, reflecting the joint commitment of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals, will ensure this reputation for excellence, rigour and service is maintained.

We do not know what the result of the pilots will be. We may conclude that flexible hours of this kind are more suitable in some places than others; or for some cases more than others, and that it makes sense to operate a small number of more flexible courts in particular places, doing particular things. But, in the best spirit of the justice system, which prefers evidence to assertion and trials to un-tried accusations, we think it is important to do the pilots and properly evaluate them before reaching any conclusions.

If you would like to find out more, get involved or share your views, please comment on the blog below.

Please note that this is a pre-moderated blog and we will respond to comments in due course.

HMCTS response to questions on piloting flexible operating hours in courts - 27 July 2017

Flexible operating hours pilot - Invitation to tender

Nottingham Extended Sitting Days Pilot Evaluation

Flexible Operating Hours Pilot Equality Statement 1.2

[English] - [Cymraeg]

Sicrhau bod ein system gyfiawnder yn gweddu i anghenion y rhai hynny y mae’n eu gwasanaethu

Mae llawer o bobl yn cael anawsterau gyda’r system gyfiawnder oherwydd ei bod yn araf ac yn gyfyngol. Rydym ni eisiau gwneud iddi weithio yn well, drwy’i datblygu o gwmpas anghenion ein dinasyddion. Mae bod yn gallu gwneud pethau yn fwy hyblyg, ar-lein yn amlach a thu allan i oriau swyddfa, o bwys i bawb sy’n defnyddio’r system gyfiawnder, ac yn arbennig felly, i lawer o ddefnyddwyr bregus ac ymgyfreithwyr drostyn eu hunain. Rydym ni’n dod â newidiadau gerbron er mwyn darparu system gyfiawnder mwy agored a hygyrch sy’n gyflymach, yn haws ac yn fwy effeithlon ar gyfer y rhai hynny sy’n ei defnyddio, y rhai sy’n gweithio ynddi ac i’r rhai sy’n talu amdani. Mae’r rhain yn cynnwys symud o systemau papur at systemau digidol, symleiddio rheoli achosion, symud rhai gweithgareddau llys a thribiwnlys ar-lein a chyflwyno gwrandawiadau rhithwir fel y gall pobl roi tystiolaeth ac ymgysylltu â’r llysoedd heb orfod teithio i’r llys ei hun. Mae’r rhain a newidiadau eraill eisoes wrthi’n cael eu cyflwyno – ac rydym ni’n dechrau cael effaith gadarnhaol. Gallwch chi weld mwy am y newidiadau eraill yr ydym ni’n eu gwneud ar flog ’Inside HMCTS’ ac yn yr animeiddiad hwn.

Cynlluniau Peilot ynglŷn â Gweithredu Oriau Hyblyg

Fel rhan o’n rhaglen ddiwygio, rydym ni’n edrych yn ogystal ar y dewisiadau i ddefnyddio adeiladau’r llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd mewn ffordd fwy hyblyg, gan adael i bobl gael gwrando eu hachosion y tu allan i’r diwrnod llys traddodiadol presennol o 10am tan 4:30pm.

Drwy archwilio gwahanol oriau gwaith, rydym ni eisiau ymdrin â rhai o’r arsylwadau a wnaed yn adolygiad Syr Brian Leveson ar wella effeithlonrwydd mewn achosion troseddol. Dywedodd Syr Brian yn ei adroddiad, “Mae’n nodedig gweld bod oriau gweithredu ein llysoedd wedi aros yr un fath ers degawdau. Mae’n rhaid mai hwn yw un o’r gwasanaethau prin hynny sydd wedi methu â chydnabod y gwahanol ffyrdd y gall aelodau’r cyhoedd yn awr fyw eu bywydau ac, o ganlyniad, addasu i’r amgylchedd gwaith gwahanol.”

Dyna pam y byddwn ni’n rhedeg cynllun peilot sy’n gweithredu mewn chwech o leoedd yn ystod yr hydref. Bydd y cynlluniau peilot yn archwilio sut y gallwn ni ddefnyddio ein hadeiladu yn well, a rhoi mwy o ddewisiadau i ddefnyddwyr y llys pan maen nhw angen dod i’r llys, drwy wrando ar wahanol achosion ar adegau gwahanol. Gan y byddai’r slotiau gwahanol ar gyfer wahanol achosion, ni fyddai cyfreithwyr a barnwyr yn cael dyddiau hirach yn y llys – byddai ganddyn nhw oriau tebyg, ond ar wahanol amseroedd.

Lleoliadau’r Cynlluniau Peilot

Rydym yn defnyddio gwahanol ddulliau mewn gwahanol lysoedd. Bydd y cynlluniau peilot yn digwydd dros chwe mis yn Llys y Goron Blackfriars, Llys Sirol Brentford, Llys Ynadon Highbury Corner, Canolfan Cyfiawnder Sifil Manceinion, Llys y Goron Newcastle ac yn Llys Ynadon Sheffield.

  • Yn Llysoedd y Goron yn Newcastle a Blackfriars, byddwn yn cynnal un sesiwn rhwng 9:30am a 1:30 pm; ac yna un sesiwn arall (ar gyfer achosion gwahanol) o 2pm tan 6pm
  • Yn Blackfriars, byddwn yn rhoi prawf yn ogystal ar y fersiwn hon lle defnyddir y bore ar gyfer achosion Llys y Goron; a’r prynhawn ar gyfer achosion llys yr ynadon
  • Mewn llys arall yn Blackfriars, byddwn yn rhoi prawf ar wrandawiadau achosion llys yr ynadon rhwng 9am ac 11am, gydag achosion Llys y Goron o 11:30am tan 5:30pm
  • Yn Llysoedd Ynadon Sheffield a Highbury Corner, byddwn yn rhoi prawf ar gynnal tri o sesiynau llys yr ynadon bob dydd. Yn Sheffield, byddwn yn rhoi prawf ar ddechrau yn gynnar (8am tan 11am, 12pm tan 3pm a 3:30pm tan 6.30pm); ac yn Highbury Corner, byddwn yn rhoi prawf ar orffen yn hwyrach (10am tan 1pm, 2pm tan 5pm a 5:30pm tan 8.30pm)
  • Yn y Llysoedd Sifil a Theulu ym Manceinion a Brentford, byddwn yn rhoi prawf ar ychwanegu un ai slot cynnar neu slot hwyr yn ychwanegol at y diwrnod llys presennol ac a fydd yn ymdrin â mathau arbennig o waith sydd yn addas ar gyfer slot byrrach, mwy hyblyg (y slot cynnar o 8am tan 10:30am; a’r slot hwyrach o 4:30pm tan 7pm)

Rydym wedi gweithio yn agos gyda barnwyr ac amrediad o sefydliadau i lunio’r cynlluniau peilot. Rydym wedi dysgu oddi wrth y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd lle’r ydym eisoes wedi defnyddio oriau gweithredu hyblyg, gyda gwrandawiadau gyda’r nos mewn Tribiwnlysoedd Cyflogaeth ac eisteddiadau ar ddyddiau Sadwrn mewn llysoedd ynadon a Thribiwnlysoedd Nawdd Cymdeithasol. Yn ogystal, rydym wedi dysgu oddi wrth gynlluniau peilot blaenorol, fel y cynllun peilot am dri mis yn Nottingham y llynedd, lle’r oedd gwrandawiadau rhwng 5pm a 7.30pm. Bydd ein cynlluniau peilot sifil yn datblygu’r profiad hwn.

Yn ogystal, rydym wedi dysgu oddi wrth gynlluniau peilot blaenorol yn llysoedd y Goron a’r llysoedd ynadon, ynghyd ag edrych sut y mae llysoedd yn y UDA, Awstralia a Singapore yn gweithredu trefniadau llawer mwy radical yn llwyddiannus. Eisoes, maen nhw’n caniatáu pobl i ddod i’r llys a chael gwrando ar eu hachosion dros amrediad o amseroedd llawer ehangach.

Gwrando ar eich safbwyntiau ynglŷn â’r cynlluniau peilot

Mae amrediad barn ynglŷn ag effaith y newid ar oriau gwaith presennol gweithwyr proffesiynol cyfreithiol sy’n gweithio yn y system.

Rydym wedi clywed gan rai y gallai symud i system fwy hyblyg, os yw’n cael ei rheoli yn dda, gynnig mwy o gyfleoedd ar gyfer y rhai hynny gyda chyfrifoldebau gofal plant a chyfrifoldebau gofalu eraill a byddem, drwy ganiatáu i weithwyr proffesiynol cyfreithiol weithio yn fwy effeithiol – a chael mynediad at achosion a gwneud cynnydd gyda nhw mewn gwahanol ffordd ac ar adegau gwahanol o’r dydd – yn lleihau’r angen i deithio neu ddisgwyl am oriau yn y llysoedd.

Fodd bynnag, mae eraill wedi dadlau y gall newid o’r fath gynyddu natur anrhagweladwy beichiau gwaith a chael effaith i’r gwrthwyneb. Dyna pam y mae mor bwysig ein bod yn rhoi prawf ar y newidiadau hyn mewn nifer fechan o lysoedd a thribiwnlysoedd, fel y gallwn ni ddeall yr effaith yn iawn cyn gwneud unrhyw benderfyniadau ehangach.
Ni fyddai gwireddu buddion yn dod yn awtomatig drwy oriau hyblyg yn unig – byddai angen gwaith ac ymrwymiad ynglŷn ag amrediad o bethau, fel ffyrdd o weithio yn y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlysoedd, sut y mae achosion yn cael eu trefnu ar gyfer gwrandawiad a sut y gallwn ni wneud hyn yn fwy ymatebol ond ar yr un pryd yn fwy rhagweladwy. Gyda’r ystyriaethau hyn dan sylw, rydym ni’n meddwl ei fod yn bwysig ein bod yn cynnal prawf cywir a theg, gan edrych yn ofalus ar y risgiau a’r cyfleoedd ar gyfer pawb sydd ynghlwm, ynghyd â’r offer newydd y byddem eu hangen i gefnogi trefnu a rhestru achosion yn fwy ymatebol.

Yn gyntaf oll, y mae’n rhaid i ni ystyried sut y gallwn ni ddarparu cyfiawnder agored ac sydd ar gael i bobl – a phrofi a yw cynnig mwy o oriau hyblyg yn caniatáu i ni wneud pethau yn well ar eu cyfer nhw. Yn ail, mae’n iawn ein bod yn dal i brofi a allwn ni ddefnyddio ein llysoedd yn fwy effeithiol. Mae’n costio oddeutu £300m y flwyddyn dim ond i redeg ystâd y llysoedd a’r tribiwnlys presennol. Pe bai defnyddio ein hadeiladau yn fwy effeithiol (p’un ai drwy oriau hyblyg neu mewn ffyrdd eraill) yn arbed dim ond 10% o’r gost honno, gallai’r £30m a fyddai’n cael ei ryddhau dalu am gostau rhedeg 4,000 o dreialon yn Llys y Goron, neu dalu am 5,000 o wrandawiadau gofal. Byddai cadw adeiladau drudfawr yn wag cyn 10am ac ar ôl 4.30pm, yn hytrach na chael llai o adeiladau wedi’u cynnal a’u cadw yn well yn agored am fwy o oriau, yn wirioneddol gostus. Ac yn drydydd, rydym ni angen cadw’r gwaith hwn fel sbardun i gydweithredu ynglŷn â ffyrdd newydd a gwahanol i feddwl am batrymau gwaith amrywiol, ar gyfer ein staff ein hunain ac ar gyfer partneriaid a gweithwyr proffesiynol drwy’r system gyfiawnder.

Y Camau nesaf ar gyfer y cynlluniau peilot

Mae ein system gyfiawnder yn cael ei hedmygu drwy’r byd. Nid yw erioed wedi aros yn ei hunfan ac mae wedi addasu yn llwyddiannus i newidiadau mawr drwy ei hanes. Bydd y newidiadau ehangach yr ydym ni’n eu rhoi gerbron yn adlewyrchu ymrwymiad ar y cyd yr Arglwydd Ganghellor, yr Arglwydd Brif Ustus ac Uwch Lywydd y Tribiwnlys, ac yn sicrhau bod yr enw da hwn ar gyfer ardderchowgrwydd, manwl gywirdeb a gwasanaethau yn cael ei gynnal.

Nid ydym yn gwybod beth fydd canlyniad y cynlluniau peilot. Gallwn ddod i’r casgliad bod oriau hyblyg fel hyn yn fwy addas mewn rhai lleoedd yn hytrach nag mewn lleoedd eraill; neu ar gyfer rhai achosion yn hytrach nag ar gyfer achosion eraill, a’i fod yn gwneud synnwyr i weithredu nifer fechan o lysoedd mwy hyblyg mewn lleoedd penodol, wrth wneud pethau penodol. Ond, yn ysbryd gorau’r system gyfiawnder, sy’n well ganddi dystiolaeth i honiadau a threialon i gyhuddiadau amhrofedig, rydym ni’n meddwl bod rhedeg y cynlluniau peilot a’u gwerthuso’n iawn yn bwysig cyn dod at unrhyw gasgliadau.

Os hoffech chi gael mwy o wybodaeth, neu gymryd rhan neu rannu eich barn, nodwch eich sylwadau yn y blog isod os gwelwch yn dda.

Nodwch mai blog sydd wedi cael ei gymedroli ymlaen llaw yw hwn a byddwn ni’n ymateb i sylwadau ymhen amser.

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  1. Comment by Michelle posted on

    I agree that we need change and especially agree with the changes to handling paperwork. I used to work in Probation Service and every time a client breached their Orders the amount of paperwork that was produced and then shredded was wasteful and time consuming. The digital production would be far better, however there has to be purchases of good equipment for this to work.

  2. Comment by Judy Dawson posted on

    As a disabled barrister with three children, the suggestion that in order to meet the commitments of my practice I would have to be ready to start work over an hour away from my home at 8am or alternatively not finish until 7pm (I will be affected by the Manchester pilot) is devastating enough for me to consider leaving the Bar. At the outset of a case, when a barrister starts to become involved, maybe by conference, drafting or advising, the case will not be listed so it is impossible to say that we would be able to "pick and choose" our cases to make the system flexible for us. It would be unprofessional to then refuse to continue; and any barrister who did so would be unlikely to be utilised again.

    This has a massively disproportionate effect on those of us with caring responsibilities. Childcare is available almost exclusively between the hours of 8am and 6pm. The Court systems total disregard to the commitments of professionals within it has always made it difficult. This will render it impossible.

    Also the security of more vulnerable court users (whether clients or representatives) is being ignored. Expecting us to arrive and more significantly leave Court, often after emotionally charged hearings, potentially in the dark and at a time when the area surrounding the Court will be far less populated, is a risk to our personal security. Few courts provide parking spaces very close to the premises for Court users.

  3. Comment by David Sarwar posted on

    I have done some criminal law work in Blackfriars Crown Court as an ILEx solicitors' clerk with a barrister. I think this development is very interesting. The Junior Lawyers Group of the Law Society, of which I am a member, comment that late-night working in the court my be too stressful for them at the start of their careers. For my part, I don't think that working 'til 6.00 with a break during the day is too long, but now I am older.

    • Replies to David Sarwar>

      Comment by Lucy Hogarth posted on

      If the court finishes at 6pm it will be starting at 8 and there isn't a break as there is a court session 12-3

  4. Comment by Mark Jones posted on

    As a lawyer I will not get paid any more for starting my day early, you seem to think we do nothing until 10:00. in the morning we have to try to get IDPC papers but you are to slow getting them to us so we end up getting them after 10:00, we also do a lot of admin tasks, some people get 8:30 slot for prison visits then get to court for 10:00. Due to poor pay it is getting hard to find people willing to become criminal lawyers. All this will do is make our working day longer as we can not afford to employ more people due to cut backs, what do my coworker do about their children, could you start schools early and have them finish late. You will end up making me work longer for no additional pay, because you are not going to pay us any more in legal aid.

  5. Comment by Emily posted on

    What about single parents?? How are they going to get childcare at these times? You are singlehandedly undoing all work that has been done to increase diversity in the criminal justice system!

  6. Comment by Daniel Flynn posted on

    I work regularly in Brentford County Court. When will I find out details about when this pilot is starting and what types of trials will be affected? How will Court users be invited to give their feedback on the pilot?

  7. Comment by David Chinery posted on

    When Sunday Courts were piloted one of the stumbling blocks was that prisons could not receive/deliver prisoners on Sundays or out of conventional working hours. How will this be managed?

    At present prisoners habitually do not arrive at court for the designated start time. Bearing in mind that counsel/solicitors often need to have a private consultation before coming into court what arrangements are being made to ensure prompt delivery of prisoners and to make interview facilities available?

  8. Comment by Claire posted on

    This is yet another ill conceived idea - no-one actually involved in the day to day court running believes it will work, and you have failed to listen to anyone with actual experience in the criminal justice system. Try asking barristers, cell staff, probation officers, CPS, witness care teams or judges - no one supports this idea for the very obvious reason that the amount of work that goes into running the court smoothly mostly happens outside of court !!!

  9. Comment by HHJ Ticehurst posted on

    I am the Resident Judge at Taunton Crown Court. In my view this experiment is misconceived and takes no account whatsoever of the realities of trials or other work in the Crown Court.

    In a small Court Centre like Taunton if the scheme is to work you will immediately need to find two more judges or Recorders to cover the split shifts. We will need double the number of potential jurors.
    Prisoners will need to be brought to Court by about 7:30 am for a realistic start in the morning. At the moment on occasions some prisons do not get prisoners to us until 12 noon! Prisoners on the afternoon shift may not get back to their prisons until gone 8:00pm by which time there will be no food or meals available for them.

    We are already struggling with a lack of staff. Is HMCTS going to be able to recruit and fund more staff and/ or pay them overtime to cover the new hours?

    It also takes no account of the domestic requirements of the legal profession ( or HMCTS staff) or the need for them to take instructions from their clients. And what if the same Counsel is instructed in a morning and the afternoon shift? No opportuntity for a break or to take instructions in the afternoon case.

    I am in the fortunate position of anticipating retirement within the next 18 months. It cannot come soon enough.

    I am unlikely to see this new scheme in actual operation. In any event may I make it clear to you now - as long as I am Resident Judge at Taunton Crown Court the nonsense that is the FOH scheme will not happen here.

    There is a very good reason that the Courts traditionally sit 10:00 am until about 4:30 pm and that these hours have not ben changed.It is because it works.

    • Replies to HHJ Ticehurst>

      Comment by Andrew Fitch-Holland posted on

      Judge, the CEO of HMCTS has expressly stated that one of the prime motivations behind this nonsense is " estate management " by which she really means closing more courts and denying local access to justice

  10. Comment by His Honour Judge Blair QC posted on

    "Keeping expensive buildings empty before 10am and after 4:30pm, rather than having fewer, better-maintained buildings open for longer hours, has a real cost."
    1) No Crown Court buildings are kept empty before 10am.
    As a judge I usually start work at 08:30am and sometimes from as early as 7am. My ushers and clerks start work at the same sorts of times as I do. Barristers and Higher Court Advocates are working in the building from 9am having pre-court meetings with clients, opponents, etc. etc.
    2) No Crown Court buildings are kept empty after 4:30pm.
    As a judge I usually leave work at 5:40pm. Our Court staff are also usually still working then.
    3) Is an undertaking being given that money will at last be spent on proper maintenance of buildings? Are you saying that this is conditional on operating 2 in-flexible shifts? Or is it, as you seem to be suggesting, that savings will pay for more crown court trials or care cases: in which case how exactly will that be done?
    4) Fewer buildings will result in much higher travelling costs for court users (who will have much further to travel with the reduction in local justice) and these in-flexible shifts will result in less accessibility for public transport users because of the lack of very early and very late buses.
    5) Where are you going to recruit a second set of judges and staff from in order to do the second shift?
    6) This is the most retrograde step in terms of diversity in my memory.

  11. Comment by Julie Clemitson posted on

    I am a barrister at the independent bar. The pilot in Newcastle will in reality mean extended working rather than flexible working. At present I am in the fortunate position to receive more instructions than I can accept which helps more junior members of Chambers to develop their practices. It is not practical to suggest I could choose to work 9.30-1.30 or 2.00-6.00 as I will end up having to work both shifts to deal with work that has been sent to me. This will mean fewer returns for others in Chambers, but for me it will mean not just an extended working day in court, but more preparation in the evenings to deal with more cases. I already work extensively in the evenings which encroaches upon the time I have for my school age children. At present I utilise the hour at lunchtime to have conferences in cases. I won't be able to do that with only a 30 minute break. The knock on effect is that more conferences will have to take place in the evenings. My working day will require me to leave home at 7.30am which prevents me from taking my children to school as I usually do now (my husband is also at the Bar so if the pilot is rolled out in other courts we will be completely stuck) and I will get home after court and an hour conference at about 8.30pm. As a family this is neither workable for my husband and I nor fair on our children. One of us would have to give up the Bar. Being female I find the vast majority of my work is of a sexual nature or dealing with vulnerable people. It is already taking a toll on my mental health after over 20 years defending and prosecuting at grade 4 level. I can not tolerate an increase in the work load and even less sleep than I currently do. I despair at the prospect of this pilot being rolled out.

  12. Comment by Ethu Crorie posted on

    If you really wanted to support equality then all courts should only sit between 11am and 2.30pm so that those with, for example, parental responsibilities can do both ends of the school run.

  13. Comment by Chandra Sekar posted on

    Leveson did not mean that Crown Court trials should be affected as he said (4 paras down from the one you quoted) :

    "I therefore recommend changes are considered to the traditional opening and closing hours of
    the Magistrates’ Courts as a means of tackling some of the inefficiencies identified in this Review. However, the views of the public and all court users should be taken into account when deciding on a new model".

    I would like to know who has been consulted or surveyed to know what the Court users actually think, whether it is is in anyway a representative sample (quantitatively and qualitatively) of any group of Court users (ask a statistician if you don't know how to measure a representative sample), and what the analysis is of those results (again using a statistician and making the raw data available to any other statitstician to check) and both quantitatively and qualitatively before deciding to do these ill-conceived pilots ( I could go on for hours).

    I expect a reply to this comment in 7 days posted on your interactive blog.

    Thanking you.

    P.S. As a barrister I was always aware that the Court staff were the worst paid and worst treated people (non-criminal) in the Court buildings and did my best, as did most judges and lawyers, to mitigate the effects of low wages, being ordered about, the front line for crazed or bumptious criminals and witnesses, etc, etc. It is a disgrace that the staff should only be expected to have a half-hour break (especially as most Court catering has stopped and often Court hearings run over) and a mark of the disdain those in power have for their employees.

  14. Comment by Mark George Q.C. posted on

    If you gave a fig about clients who need to get to court you wouldn't have closed so many that now they have to travel far longer to get to the nearest court. All HMCTS care about is saving money.
    And as for the suggestion that courts are empty before 10am and after 4.30pm, its obvious whoever wrote this has not seen a Crown Court robing room which is usually a hive of activity long before 10am. If you kept the building empty until 10am the courts wouldn't be ready to start before 11am at the earliest. We have to be in the building long before 10am as we have clients to see who may be in the cells and there are often matters that need to be discussed between the advocates.

  15. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    Where are the pilots, what are they piloting and why were they chosen?

    The pilots will take place over a six month period at Blackfriars Crown Court, Brentford County Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Newcastle Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates’ Court.

    Each pilot court will test different sitting patterns. We will test models in which different jurisdictions have been combined in civil and family, and we will also test a day split between magistrates’ and Crown work. We are developing proposals for an additional pilot that tests a Crown sitting combined with Tribunals work, and will share details as soon as we have developed these proposals further. Within these models, local HMCTS and judicial teams will have the flexibility to make sure sitting times meet the needs of their users.

    We chose the locations for the pilots by working closely with the judiciary and the agencies involved in the criminal justice system. The pilot sites include different types of courts, but we have focused on metropolitan areas where flexible operating hours is likely to be more feasible because of travelling distances and higher caseloads.

  16. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    Will members of the legal profession be forced to appear in court from 8am to 8pm?

    No. Although we are asking people to work differently in the pilot courts, the pilots have been designed to ensure that nobody will be in court for longer periods than they are today. Listing arrangements will mean that nobody is required to be in court for the full, extended day and nobody will be expected to work from 8am until 8pm.

    In Newcastle, for example, a listing working group has been established, including Bar clerks, CPS, Listing Officer and Delivery Manager.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Lucy Hogarth posted on

      This will be impossible in practice and you have not discussed how it will work with the practitioners themselves. We receive instructions for a large proportion of our work on the day of the hearing and our court will not list for our availability. Nor will they give us information in advance about which court a case is listed in or at what time. Sheffield Magistrates Court recently had a flood which meant some cases were heard in the Crown Court building. Court staff would not tell us over the phone which cases were in which building. Do you think you can change this before the pilot starts?

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Nadia Beckett posted on

      What about solicitor advocates? We shall still be required to work a full day in the office as well as conduct hearings out of office hours. This is horrible idea. In family cases more litigants should be encouraged to arbitrate rather than litigate and this would solve many of the current problems.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Charley Pattison posted on

      "nobody will be expected to work from 8am until 8pm"
      As a junior barrister (2013 Call) my working day Monday to Friday tends to start at around 6:30am, I then generally travel an hour or so to wherever I am in court that day, meet my client and my opponent, have a full day in court, and when court finishes sitting I see my client for a short while, travel home and would usually do at least an hour or so of work in the evening. At the weekend there is often next week's trial to prepare, and of course the administration associated with running a business (self employed Bar). If I were to start a family, as a junior crime barrister I would not be able to find nor afford childcare starting from 7am and arguably would have to give up a career I love before I have even really got started.
      Although legal aid pay doesn't reflect conferences with a client as an important part of the process, they still need to happen, usually at around 4:30pm or 5pm in Chambers. Would these now need to be at 8pm or 9pm?
      A six month pilot alone could finish promising careers for those with caring responsibilities who have to return work to other barristers. With such high costs acting as a barrier to entry to the Bar generally, a career at the criminal bar would just not be financially viable for many people.
      Please go back to the drawing board and have a think about what the aim of the court process is: justice maybe? Well a smaller selection of criminal lawyers stretched over longer hours and defendants not being able to attend trials because the bus doesn't get them there until two hours after their trial starts doesn't seem like it is working towards that aim.

  17. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    What were the findings of the previous pilots? What are you doing differently this time based on the learning?

    The sitting arrangements we tested in previous pilots generally worked well. However, the pilots were limited in scope and didn’t set out to consider the full impact on the wider system, such as the detailed financial implications and the feasibility of operating flexible hours in multiple sites. We have designed these pilots to enable us to carry out this wider evaluation and establish the full impact of flexible operating hours.

    The previous pilots offered useful insight into which sitting patterns can work well for different hearing types, and this year’s pilots will build on the lessons learned. We also learned that local leadership provides vital knowledge and awareness of local circumstances and case mixes. This is why we have developed a framework within which local teams can determine the way the pilot runs and the types of cases heard.

  18. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    How did you consult on these pilots? Who was consulted?

    We have worked closely with the judiciary and with the professional engagement groups established to support court and tribunal reform. We have also had discussions with the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by James Vine posted on

      And you have completely ignored the very detailed representations from The CBA, LCCSA and CLSA. We have been here before. You have not learned from past mistakes made by the likes of Gibby and Brennan. This is very unwise. We are not fools and will not be treated with such contempt, as we proved in the past over two tier

  19. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    Has HMCTS undertaken an assessment on the equalities implications of these pilots as part of its obligations under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010?

    Yes. We have carried out an initial assessment in line with our statutory responsibilities. We will assess the equalities implications throughout the pilots as information comes in, and they will feature prominently in the evaluation.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Mathew Gullick posted on

      Will you please publish your equalities assessment? I have been asking your CEO and Ed Owen about this on Twitter for several days now and although you have finally stated that an assessment has been carried out, they and you have conspicuously failed even to respond to my requests to publish it. Will you please publish it? If not, why not?

  20. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    How will you evaluate the pilots?

    The pilots will be evaluated independently. We have invited commercial tenders to ensure we get an independent team with the necessary experience to assess the evidence impartially. We have sought a wide range of views to clarify the scale and nature of the evaluation – taking into account the views of the judiciary, public agencies, the Bar Council, the Law Society and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. The information we collect will inform a full equality impact assessment and we have included a number of research questions on inclusion and diversity as part of the tender process.

  21. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    What support is being given to professional court users affected by these pilots?

    The pilots are being led by local teams in partnership with members of the judiciary. These teams will include representatives from the legal profession, who we hope will play an active role in the pilots. It is important to reiterate that nobody is expected to work longer hours than they do now, and we hope the pilots will help identify opportunities where flexible working could help increase diversity in the legal profession.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Lucy Hogarth posted on

      Can you tell us the start dates of the pilots?

  22. Comment by HMCTS Communications Team posted on

    How is HMCTS supporting wider issues, such as inclusion, diversity and morale, within the wider justice system?

    HMCTS is making ambitious changes to the wider justice system to ensure it better meets the needs of the people it serves. We are introducing more flexibility to increase efficiency and effectiveness. This flexibility also has the potential to benefit those who work in the justice system.

    The changes we are making will make it easier to start, access, progress and manage cases online or through video and remote hearings, and reduce the need to appear in a court or tribunal centre in person. We want these changes to provide new opportunities for legal professionals to ‘attend’ court virtually at times better suited to them, and reduce time wasted in travel and waiting. Reducing wasted time and effort for all court users will be a key measure of success in the future.

    We believe these new opportunities could have a positive impact on equality and diversity. The pilots will help us all understand the extent to which this is the case.

    • Replies to HMCTS Communications Team>

      Comment by Daniel Flynn posted on

      The suggestion that we might attend court virtually is laughable considering the courts have virtually no IT services. However the real question is why you believe, as you state in your last paragraph, this move will have a positive impact on equality and diversity? What logic is behind this? What investigation have you done?

  23. Comment by Alastair Douglad posted on

    The Justice system is one of the two fundamental pillars of a nation state alongside defence of the realm.

    The MOJ and HMCTS are doing everything possible to undermine it. I cannot understand why you strive to lower access to Justice.

    Why do you simply wish to make life a little more unpleasant and unsocial for all "court users".

    No Court building sits idle outside 10am to 4:30pm. They are full of "behind the scenes" activity. You know like taking instructions. Chasing the CPS for the most basic information . Trying to establish why the defendant is in a prison van en route to Lancaster and not Lewes, masses of daft admin work from the MOJ, LAA or HMCTS etc.

    These changes will blatantly adversely affect part time workers, those with child care or disability care etc etc. It's almost appears intentional.

    But most of all your blog and the reports that underpin it show a complete lack of understanding of how criminal courts actually work. Either you don't care or you don't know.

    Why must the entire system be less human than before, more uncomfortable than before.

    We already have to travel further and undertake more cases for less. You will now prolong the daily pain.

    Have you not noticed the moral of cell staff, court staff, probation, Judges, CPS, ushers, defence solicitors and barristers - in short everyone - is rock bottom. People are leaving in droves.

    Your response is to further distance access to Justice in every conceivable way.

    Society will pay a price for the undermining of such a small but key pillar of the state.

  24. Comment by Colin Mardell posted on

    Anyone without a car who lives near me would find it impossible to get to any court by 8am or home again after 6pm. This would of course include witnesses and jury members. One wonders if it is the intention of the MoJ and HMCTS to ultimately dispense with the necessity for these court users?

  25. Comment by Lucinda Nicholls posted on

    Why are the HMCTS refusing to engage with solicitor representative bodies, who have a complete defence lawyer membership base, despite several requests?
    As a result it has not been a fair or accurate assessment of all court users and therefore you do not have a true reflection of the effects this will have on defendants and defence lawyers.
    Your suggestion that this will be flexible working is completely flawed. You have not taken into account the huge delays that defence lawyers have to endure (unpaid) at court already due to the current practises and have refused to engage with defence lawyers who are more than willing to assist you with your currently flawed decision making.

  26. Comment by Claude Erskine-Brown QC posted on

    Will prior authority for travel/hotels be more liberally awarded to the Bar? Most Barristers in the Northwest live within an hours commute to courts in the city centre but often appear in neighbouring cities or outlying court centres such as as Barrow in Furness. Will hotels be provided for the Barrister to enable them to appear as early as 8am in cities/outlying court centres? Do you really think I'm going to turn up for a mention hearing paying £46:50 at 8am or as late as 6am.

  27. Comment by Jacqueline Harris posted on

    Did you look at the Inner London Magistrates Courts night courts experiment that was run a few tears ago? There were problems with getting professional bodies on board with it, consequently the probation service didn't take part & the prisons refused to take custody cases late at night which meant the prisoners were sent to police stations over night. It was scrapped because of this and the costs.

  28. Comment by Paul Magrath (ICLR) posted on

    Although I am not a practitioner, it seems to me that if these pilots are to work there will need to be considerable change of work patterns for police, prison service, probation, court service, catering facilities, transport facilities and other staff as well as lawyers, clients and judiciary. Are these modifications all in place? I doubt it. Change cannot be effected one profession or one facility at a time. It needs multi-systemic planning. I'd be interested to know what steps have been taken in these areas.

  29. Comment by May posted on

    Have you secured sufficient numbers of magistrates to the proposed rota for extended hours? Similarly have you DJs in place. If to my first question the answer is "no" will you attempt to use DJs more often? Have you sufficient of them for your proposed needs? Do you have a division of sittings in mind for JPs and DJs?

  30. Comment by Ian Kelcey posted on

    I am afraid this Pilot is as ill conceived as the one at Croydon some years ago. As a defence advocate I see my clients pre court at 10am I have to arrange my office to work out how we are going to cover the overnight prisoners and by the way on top of that we may have clients in the police station and of course prepare cases.
    Defence practitioners be they at the Bar or Solicitors are already stretched to the limit, I am afraid this Pilot has an element of "Alice in Wonderland " thinking. Oh and by the way the Law Society has recently issued a practice note making it clear that solicitors have to think long and hard about taking on unprofitable work, this work will be unprofitable we will have to pay staff for working ever more unsocial hours therefore the work is unprofitable, I will not have to think long and hard about it my practice will take the view this work is unprofitable. NO THANKS

  31. Comment by B Brown posted on

    Please can the HMCTS comment on the reasonable observations made by those above rather than simply making press releases. As a 15year+ qualified criminal solicitor it is worth remembering that a typical Court day is bookended by attendances at the Police Station as well as dealing with the increasing paper trails demanded by associated agencies. Law graduates are already being tempted away from criminal law due to the low pay and long hours. This will only compound matters. Please listen to those you consult and address the points raised if this is to be a meaningful consultation and not lip service for a policy which will be forced through and regretted. Please see also Crime Contracting 2015 and Criminal Courts Charges.

  32. Comment by Makhan Singh posted on

    Single parents with childcare responsibilities will find it impossible to work around these extended hours. 'Ill conceived' as a scheme would be an understatement. Please do not waste time and effort on this pilot and avoid a lot of misery to many in the criminal justice system.

  33. Comment by ome miserum posted on

    I'm going to put my head above the parapet. This exercise in lunacy is going fail. Please look at the comments above. I have considered them all twice. Oddly, I can't find a single professional in favour of any of your ideas. We are engaging in a dialogue of the deaf speaking to you. You are utterly blind to the massive problems with your proposals and I can only conclude deliberately so. I endorse each and every one of the objections set out above.

    You say "HMCTS is making ambitious changes to the wider justice system to ensure it better meets the needs of the people it serves." That means them having a fair trial. A trial is not fair if the advocate for either party is too tired or too concerned about their personal domestic difficulties arising from the late finish or early start.

    We are the ones who actually do the work. Not HMCTS Communications Team. We are the counsel and solicitors who will have this foisted upon us. Please pardon our absence from your early morning and late evening courts, because, we won't be there.

    There, said it now and already feel better.

  34. Comment by Ruth Edwards posted on

    This is the most ridiculous idea the MOJ has ever come up with. Court starts at 10.00 and finishes when it finishes, not bang on 4.30, especially magistrates courts . You arrive at 9 to get papers, talk to prosecutors, see clients who are on bail so you are ready for 10. If you have prisoners you hope they get there on time but they rarely do. Most don't arrive until between 10 & 11. Are G4S going to change their practices to accommodate earlier sittings? I think not. If your prisoner is not dealt with until the afternoon and is remanded, if courts are sitting till 6pm then they won't get back until 8 or 9 pm to no food and no time before lock up.
    If you have a trial you still get there early to sort all the little things, like prosecution disclosure, that hasn't been done before the trial, despite countless court directions. This is not flexible working. This is quite simply extended working to meet the MOJ plan "stacking high and selling cheap"

  35. Comment by Olivia Edwards posted on

    I'm a solicitor-advocate in public family law in Manchester. Not only will this massively affect my own domestic circumstances, (I have no ideas where am I supposed to put my 2 year old when court starts at 8am??) but
    what about the clients whom this pilot is supposed to benefit? Where are they supposed to leave their children pre 8am post 4pm?
    This will disproportionately affect most female lawyers with children or those with childcare responsibilities & most female clients.

  36. Comment by Sarah Roberts posted on

    I am a solicitor advocate. I am extremely concerned about the impact that extended sitting hours will have on those with caring responsibilities, myself included. Childcare providers only work between 8am and 6pm. Outside those hours, childcare is cost prohibitive not to mention uncondusive to family life. This will disproportionately impact on female advocates and staff. I may very well have to leave the profession. Aside from this, I am worried about how late sitting in particular will affect the quality of the evidence, the advocacy and the decisions in trials. The criminal justice system is unfortunately filled with vulnerable people on both sides of cases. These sitting hours will be impossible for many of them.

  37. Comment by Christopher Sharp QC posted on

    There appears to be a very significant disconnect between HMCTS' theory and the practical reality of life as an advocate. You do actually need to meet a client, face to face, to understand their fears and worries, to test their evidence and account, to be able to negotiate with them and with the other side. Doing it all on Skype (assuming it works at all) does not work, nor can they hand over the paperwork they will have received from some government agency and don't understand. And as a judge I can assure you the need to have a witness there in the flesh is crucial.
    For you to pretend that listing will guarantee that an advocate will not have a case listed in a morning list and another in an afternoon list is laughable. Can I suggest that whoever is responsible for these discriminatory and ill thought through ideas just spends a month, even a week, with a real Public Law Family barrister - preferably a woman with children. And then spend time in a struggling Court office where they are understaffed, overworked and underpaid and look them in the eye and tell them they must get in to work 2 hours earlier (6 am for an 8 am start since they get in at 8 for 10) and vice versa in the evening.
    The only reason we advocates are not in the building before 9 am and after 5.30 is because security will not allow it. You will need to employ more staff, and open from at least 7 am to 9 pm (or later).
    Please think again.

  38. Comment by Kate Brunner QC posted on

    In what way does HMCTS envisage that 'these new opportunities could have a positive effect on equality and diversity'?
    Since 2000 women have made up around 50% of those called to the Bar. Only 29% of self-employed barristers over 15 yrs call are women, and only 13% of QCs. There is no trickle-up effect; women are still leaving en masse. There are clearly factors already embedded in self-employed practice which make it difficult for those with primary caring responsibilities to remain. Longer sitting hours would tip the balance for many women who are just managing to combine work with caring, and would lead directly to the immediate loss of many more talented women from the profession. It would deter those with caring responsibilities from court-based sectors of practice. The corresponding deleterious effect on diversity in the ranks of junior, QC’s and judges would be profound and long-lasting.

  39. Comment by Phyllida Erskin-Brown QC posted on

    I approve of the new double shift sitting hours. My husband, Claude Erskine-Brown is forever embarrassing himself by trying to drag the junior female members of Chambers off to the opera. The new proprosals would give them an excuse to ignore his unseemly approaches as they can legitimately claim to be in court until 8. In addition I could leave home well before 7 each day and avoid him complaining that he failed the recorder test.

  40. Comment by James Stark posted on

    The recent comments of the HMCTS communications team show a complete failure to understand how cases are prepared and heard. The shift system idea ignores the fact that an advocate may find that they are in cases with different shifts in a week so appearing on a case one day till 8pm only to have to appear the next day at 8 am .

    Moreover, the plans ignore specialist advocates who may well appear as I do across a wide region involving significant travelling - cases being heard late or early would make that nigh on impossible without incurring significant extra costs of overnight accommodation and have a serious impact on my family life and child care commitments

    Nobody who understands the role of advocates (especially those engaged in publicly funded work) and the impact on parents in particular could possibly advance these misconceived proposals .

    As for the failure to comprehend how discriminatory they are words fail me .

  41. Comment by Simon Myerson QC posted on

    Public access to justice demands access to a trained advocate. Therefore, the question of access to trained advocates is at the heart of the issue.
    The truth is that the vast majority of barristers are self-employed people, without any working hours protection. Their working week is far more than 40 hours. It is closer to 55, and often exceeds 65.
    It does not require any great imagination to understand that if they are in court for six hours a day, there are fairly hefty hours to do either side of the court day.
    The court day evolved, in part, because barristers did work long hours, and by allowing them to do so either side of court hours, the court reaped the benefits. Barristers were properly prepared, cases proceeded with expedition, and the results were reliable.
    Of course, in order for that to work, barristers had to be supported by solicitors who, in addition to doing their own advocacy, ensured that the work done either side of court hours by the bar was properly supported and resourced.
    If you alter the court hours, you prevent work either side of them. You therefore gamble that advocates are either not very busy, and so have time to devote to preparatory work during court hours, or feel compelled to return work to other people, thereby adversely affecting their own finances, and depriving the client of the advocate of their choice.
    When neither of these two alternatives are acceptable, you essentially put self-employed people into a position which, were you to apply it to your own employed staff, would be wholly unlawful.
    You ought, if you are being open and transparent, to acknowledge that. Your failure to acknowledge it does suggest that what you say cannot be trusted.
    What is more, it is clear that women and BAME lawyers are far more likely to be found in the area of publicly funded work, which is of course the area you are now tampering with. Any equality issues should be looked at with that in mind. They have not been.
    It is all rather too redolent of the bad faith approach of the Ministry of Justice.
    The issue of your approach is important, because if you really wish to proceed in step with the professions then they are entitled to honesty and transparency. So, it would be appreciated if you could act on that basis from now. That offers the public the best chance of widening access to justice.

  42. Comment by James Stark posted on

    By specialist advocates I mean those who specialise in a particular niche area of law

  43. Comment by Michael Robinson posted on

    Wouldn't it make more sense if you worked with Court Users on a much wider basis than you do at present to make the current sitting patterns more efficient?
    Having a clear cross-discipline definition of "efficient" would be a good start.
    The previous pilot in North Tyneside proved that it wasn't a necessary or useful reform and was not proceeded with. How much money will these pilots waste?

  44. Comment by Gareth posted on

    HMCTS attempted a similar trial in Cardiff a few years ago, which completely failed due to lack of demand and an acknowledgement that there were insufficient staff numbers to achieve such a system. Strange that there isn't any mention of this in failure in your blog?

    In any case, nothing has changed and this remains a terrible idea. For the majority of advocates and court staff, the court day starts at 8:30, if not earlier. And those same court advocates rarely get home to see their families until early evening, sometimes closer towards 8 or 9pm once the day's administrative tasks have been concluded and preparation for the next day's court list has been completed.

    It is fantasy to suggest that those court advocates and staff will not be working longer hours - as I understand things, HMCTS is being told to make efficiency savings so I struggle to see where they are going to get the extra funding to recruit the additional staff required for this flawed initiative.

  45. Comment by Craig Tickner posted on

    It seems to me that this is another back handed attempt by the Govt at shutting down the smaller High Street firms who would have very little chance of operating such (in)flexible hours due to the increase in staff costs and other overheads. Large firms might be able to adapt by taking advantage of persons willing to work silly hours for little pay as a way into the profession. They won't mind of course. More HCAs and more money for them to the detriment of our Bar. As a vociferous supporter of he Bar, I find this repulsive and it cannot be too long before our justice system is no longer the envy of others. Think about is envied because of the way we have been operating. So why the need for radical change?

    It has already been mentioned, but what about providers of other essential services such as schools? Is there going to be a similar pilot so that the profession can rest assured that their children can opt to go to school at such hours to match their super flexible parents? Of course not!

    To pick out one aspect of Sir Brian's report and use it as a vehicle to promote this half-baked scheme is laughable. We have adapted in terms of the Digital Case System and other technological advances. We do not mind change but not for the sake of saving a few pounds at the expense of quality of service.

  46. Comment by Judy Dawson posted on

    Given that HMCTS has undertaken an initial assessment on the equalities implications (response 25/7) please can such assessment be published?
    With numerous local courts being closed down resulting in people being expected to travel to courts a significant distance from their home address, has HMCTS addressed the impact on access to justice in commencing court hearings at a time by which some people will not be able to reach the Court by public transport? Rural areas are not well-served by bus services, certainly before 9am in the morning and those who use the Courts system are not just those who live in London and cities.

  47. Comment by Nick Kelcey posted on

    This Idea is ludicrous and a ill conceived idea, I'm a relative young practitioner with a young family, I couldnt afford to buy a house in a city center so live on the outskirts of Bristol I leave for work at 6:30am I never get to see my daughter in the morning before school.

    By introducing FOH this will impact upon any practitioner with a young family, I try and leave work around 5pm to be able to go home to spend a few hours 6pm onwards with my family before bedtime.

    This is not always possible, If this goes ahead I won't see my daughter at all on weeknights and will only see her at weekends (when I'm not on 24hour police station call out) now to put my family issues aside, when are we expected to see clients and take instructions and also to meet with counsel for conferences and conduct all our preparation that goes into cases.

    Your ideas seem to be attempting to demolish the legal profession not for the first time!

    I see all the comments currently are against this course of action so hopefully you will pay attention to this.

  48. Comment by David Bacon posted on

    You mention "letting people have their cases heard outside the current traditional 10:00am to 4:30pm court day".

    The word "letting" implies that the courts will allow, rather than compel, people to have their cases heard either early morning or late evening. Can you confirm whether the elongated hours will be optional, or will matters simply be listed for 8:00am or (potentially) not be heard until 7:45pm?

    I won't repeat the many strong arguments raised in this comment section, but you are of course aware that adequate case preparation does require work outside "court time". If a matter is listed at 8:00am, an advocate would have to attend at least for 7:00am to collect papers and hold conferences. Such a time is clearly not family friendly and will limit the number of courts advocates can travel to. Similarly, a hearing concluding at 8:00pm makes it very difficult to visit a client in custody after the hearing, and will impact on family life.

    I have yet to meet or hear from a single "court user" desperate for this flexibility proposed, and welcome your evidence of those in favour. In the absence of that, the whole proposal comes down to "better use of court buildings". It seems curious to impose an unwelcome change in the hope you might squeeze a couple of extra hours of building use.

  49. Comment by Richard Bloomfield posted on

    Today the Supreme Court unanimously held that the government discriminated in the introduction of fees in Employment Tribunal cases.

    These proposals are equally discriminatory but no one in authority cares. Discrimination comes from the very top.

    FoH discriminates against those with child care commitments. It discriminates against those who work for firms who will be forced to work more than the hours permitted by the Working Time directive (those who undertake police station on call work have to count those hours under the working time directive). It also discriminates against those with a disability who need regular access to hot drinks and food and cannot do so because there are no facilities available during the extended hours.

    The current system now lists cases by videolink at times such as 3.30 p.m. It makes it impossible to book prison conferences in the afternoon, so I adopt the expedient of having prison conferences at 5.45 p.m which means that I do not get home until 7.30 p.m. I cannot book afternoon conferences for the same reason so I book those on a Saturday morning.

    I am one of four who is required to cover 128 hours out of hours call for police stations, which means that on average I cover 32 hours a week before preparing work, attending court or undertaking conferences. In any given week, I work in excess of 70 hours under the working directive.

    The estate has been progressively pruned as outlying courts are shut. A county the size of Northumberland no longer has a single county court and only one magistrates court. There is no approved custody suite in the county and detainees in custody sometimes have to be taken the entire length of the county (meaning two police officers are removed from the streets for the remainder of their shifts) to a suitable police station for detention and interview.

    No thought has been given as to how a defendant on state benefits in Berwick upon Tweed is expected to travel to Newcastle for a Crown Court hearing at 9 a.m.

    Despite the number of courts which has been closed, no attempt has been made to maintain what is left. The Combined Court Centre in Newcastle is in a disgusting state. Much of the furniture is either broken or the furnishings ripped. The toilets are in a dreadful state with regular leaks from the urinals onto the floor. The electrical equipment is outdated and routinely fails.

    The CPS are overworked and cannot cope with the existing workload. That is due to cuts in their numbers. Applications to extend time for service are regularly made by the prosecution and invariably granted, giving the impression to defendants that the system is slanted in favour of the prosecution.

    It is however reassuring that money is available to pay for an extra judge, for cells staff to stay late, for CPS salaries, for court staff, etc.

    This whole project is completely misconceived.

    I agree with what is written before and sought to avoid repetition.

  50. Comment by Mark Florida-James posted on

    Even if the views of practitioners who have daily experience of the reality of court work is ignored, I hope that the judiciary who express opposition will not be. This is yet another hare-brained scheme conceived by those who do not have a clue as to the workings of courts. As a more senior practitioner I will be affected but less so than junior colleagues, one of whom already regularly starts work in Chambers at 4.30a.m. and often for a fee of just over £100 for the day. This will drive many out of the profession and by the time the powers that be realise what a calamity has ensued it will be too late. Talent and enthusiasm will have moved to more lucrative careers and court staff will be so disillusioned that retention will be difficult.

  51. Comment by Tim Burrows posted on

    Can I just, as a Defence practitioner of 24 years experience, a Duty Solicitor for the same period, and a Higher Court Advocate who appears Daily in the Magistrates Court, regularly attends the Police Station and Crown Court, add my two pence worth.

    This is a scheme dreamt up by someone who really hasnt got the first idea how Courts ACTUALLY work and simply doesn't understand that without the goodwill of those who are at the coal face, it doesn't.

    That goodwill is about to be removed. And you will find out very quickly that you haven't got the first idea how to clean up the mess you gave created without those who have single handedly kept the pen pushers in "gainful employment"

    "a pig in lipstick is still a pig"

  52. Comment by L Reed posted on

    I'm a self employed family barrister and DDJ. Others have covered the difficulties for the self employed bar. I won't repeat them, but want to highlight an issue that hasn't featured much in comments so far.

    I suspect that the new flexibility in question will require flexibility from DDJs who the civil and family system increasingly depends on (Deputies covering civil work is increasingly the only way to ensure full timers are available to cover complex family work). I think that HMCTS is likely to find it even more difficult than it already is to cover all required DDJ work if we are going to be expected to work these hours. A main practical attraction of DDJ work is a comparatively "normal" and comparatively predictable working hours, even though one could earn more in privately paid work. I will be very reluctant to sit a very early or very late shift. And what's more I will think twice in future about applying for any full time position if my employment is going to require me to sit all hours. I anticipate that these proposals will further deepend the recruitment crisis for the judiciary and will set back strides being made to improve the diversity of the judiciary. As far as I am aware the part time judiciary have not been consulted about this at all. I think you should survey how many would be prepared to cover sitting requirements outside of the current normal sitting day.

  53. Comment by Chris Johnson posted on

    Am I correct in thinking that neither the CLSA nor LCCSA have been consulted?
    The schemes are adding additional burdens upon practitioners both financial and in terms of stress. It is fantasy to suggest that there will be any choice given. Custody Officers do not give people a choice as to which date and time they are bailed to. Court listing is very unsympathetic to any changes to their carefully composed lists to accommodate the advocates, even supposing that the understaffed Courts answer the phone or email, an increasingly rare phenomenon.
    A Magistrates Court case in the morning with a finding of guilt will inevitably e listed in the next session for sentence, thus negating the flexibility.
    I won't repeat the arguments above but I agree with them. There is , unfortunately, the air of another attempt to ride roughshod over the professions rather than working with us to achieve more efficiency.

  54. Comment by L. Mustard posted on

    This scheme creates unnecessary hurdles for caregivers, largely women (although not exclusively). If the MOJ truly want to create equality in the judiciary this is NOT the way to go about it. This system in my view is discriminatory. You will force even more women to leave the bar. With successive cuts you have already ensured those doing publicly funded work, work even harder for further reduced remuneration. This scheme will force barristers with young families and care responsibilities for other family members, particularly female barristers out of the profession!

  55. Comment by Matei Clej posted on

    As an interpreter under the MOJ contract, much of my work consists of travelling from London to courts 150+ miles away where a local interpreter is not available. This often entails waking up at 4:30am to be on a 6am train, in order to be there for a 10am start. If these cases were to start at 8am, there would be no way I could take them, since travelling the day before and staying in a hotel would make no business sense for me. Those cases would presumably then be adjourned for lack of an interpreter, leading to more wasted time for defence lawyers and defendants (including those on remand).

  56. Comment by Kate Scott posted on

    There is a fundamental misunderstanding by those running the pilot as to how defence solicitors work. We have absolutely no control over when our cases are listed.

    If we represent a client at the police station and they are charged the custody sgt will allocate the next available Court slot suitable for that case, at that stage we do not yet have legal aid to represent that client, we don't actually know whether we will be representing them or not. For those whose cases are not charged but they receive a summons or postal requisition the Court or police will again allocate the next available Court hearing date. The client may seek a solicitor once they have received their Court date, not having been represented previously, they may turn up at the Magistrates' Court and ask for us.

    It would be impossible for us to shuffle all of our cases for a particular day into an early or later shift in advance (or at all) due to not actually knowing whether who we will be representing that far in advance, let alone the fact that convenience for defence solicitors has never been a priority in the Magistrates' Courts.

    So where the pilot is running the following "In Sheffield and Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Courts, we will test holding three magistrates’ courts sessions each day. In Sheffield, we will test an early start (8am to 11am, 12pm to 3pm and 3:30pm to 6.30pm); and in Highbury Corner, we will test a later finish (10am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm and 5:30pm to 8.30pm)" Defence solicitors are going to have to be available for all three sessions and find some time to obtain the case papers digitally or otherwise and prepare beforehand and do the follow up work afterwards as well as covering the police station night and day.

    As if we don't sacrifice enough of our work/life balance and our family time already without this ludicrous scheme. For those with caring responsibilities, still disproportionately women, these hours make continuing with a career in criminal defence impossible. Childcare is simply not available for this length of time each day. The cost is already prohibitive for many, and even adding the few additional hours available would make it completely worthless working as fees and salaries are not going to go up. The scheme is discriminatory.

    I believe there are other issues as well such as our local Crown Court was built as part of a PPP and there are additional fees payable for opening the building earlier or later than agreed in the contract. Not money saving at all, not convenient for anyone and undoubtably more expensive overall.

    Without the goodwill of solicitors and barristers this scheme will fail and there is precious little left.

  57. Comment by Andrew Keogh posted on

    The idea sounds perfect. Instead of many court buildings being utilised for part of the day, use fewer buildings for a longer period. Simples. As a student of economics it is easy to understand why people are attracted to these relatively simple ideas, like all economic theories however, it requires a perfect market. I expect that there are people who work in the CJS who would welcome flexible hours, for whatever reason, and therefore I do not start from a point where I am fundamentally opposed to exploring this idea further. What I do object to however is the arrogance of those devising it. Due to union rights there will be nobody in any government organisation taking part in these pilots unless and until they are satisfied with the conditions of working (including pay) that is being offered. However, there is no compensation for defence lawyers. It is assumed that there will be takers for the work, due to natural competition - and if the "market" is able to supply lawyers willing to do the work offered at the price offered, then why would anyone pay more? So far, so good, but the architects of this project are now wondering why market forces are being interpreted as an act of arrogance? That you need to ask says it all. Firms cannot unilaterally change contracts, a court is staffed by one judge, one prosecutor, but many defence lawyers. It is deemed acceptable to cast aside the services of the many for the desperate few who have to work into the night for no extra money. That isn't a partnership, it is exploitation. That isn't client choice, it is price competitive tendering by another route. But, rant over. Either barristers and solicitors will for once in their lives stand up for themselves, or they will display once again that they are an irrelevance. Kill the pilot.

  58. Comment by Grahame Richardson posted on

    I am a family law barrister. I am in court most days of the week. More often than not I have to spend several hours in the evenings preparing my case for the next day. If there is to be this sort of flexibility so far as court hearing times are concerned, I am very worried about how late it is likely to be when I will be trying to prepare cases in the evenings. This would be particularly so if I were to arrive home even later than usual because I had been representing a client at a late sitting. This potential problem would be greatly compounded if the next day's case were to have been listed for an early start. These proposals have the potential to cause enormous disruption for practitioners like me. They ignore the work that is needed outside of the actual hearings. If legal representatives are exhausted as a result of such new working patterns then that will not be in the interests of their clients.

  59. Comment by Katherine Goss posted on

    I am in the process of hiring a before and after school nanny for my return to the Family Bar following maternity leave. I am advertising the hours as 7.30-9am and 3.15-7.30pm. These hours have to be paid whether I am earning any money that day or not. If flexible court hours are introduced I will need to ensure I have childcare available from 5.30-9am and 3.15-10pm each day as I travel by train extensively across the North Eastern circuit. Continuing at the Bar will not be viable. I cannot see how flexible hours can possibly encourage the retention of women at the Bar or therefore increase the number of women in the judiciary.