The government’s fresh attempts to trial extended court opening hours could still potentially discriminate against solicitors with children or other caring responsibilities, the Law Society has warned.
In February HM Courts & Tribunals Service will pilot different flexible operating hour models at Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown courts, Highbury Corner and Sheffield magistrates’ courts, Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. It published a prospectus setting out the government's rationale last month.
However, the Society says the prospectus neither identifies practical measures to ensure lawyers are not working longer hours, nor explains how lawyers should notify the court if their cases are listed during the early morning and late evening sessions on the same day.
Chancery Lane understands that practitioners working for the Crown Prosecution Service will receive an uplift for antisocial hours. However, the Legal Aid Agency has not confirmed any uplift or enhanced payment for defence practitioners. Legal aid practitioners are unlikely to be able to participate in the pilot without potentially unlawfully discriminating against members of their practice who have families and young children, special health or mobility needs.
Previous assurances that the London pilots will only deal with trials appear to have changed, the Society notes. Timetables now include bail rotas, which affect duty rotas.
In September HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood announced she was delaying the pilot until HMCTS was satisfied that it had a 'robust, independent evaluation system' in place. The Society says HMCTS has given itself a 'very short timeframe' to consider the new models, make recommendations and incorporate the conclusions into the existing flexible operating hours framework.