Barristers are less happy in their working lives than staff in the National Health Service, with stress and a failure of chambers to help with pressures outside work among major concerns.

According to the results of two surveys, one on quality of working life and the other on the courts' flexible operating hours (FOH) proposal, barristers said they are unsatisfied with their working life, the conditions they work in, and how they will be able to manage if plans to introduce evening and early morning sittings at courts are introduced.

A survey asked nearly 2,000 members of the South Eastern Circuit and Criminal Bar Association (CBA) to say whether they agreed, strongly agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with statements about their working life; 354 responded. The results were compared with findings from a similar survey of 953 NHS staff.

Among NHS staff, 58% of respondents said they thought their organisation understood their work, compared with 37% of barrister respondents. On feeling stress at work, 81% of barristers said they agreed they had felt stress at work, compared with 47% of NHS workers.

Further, 48.6% of NHS staff said they agreed with the statement that they are satisfied with their working life compared with 28.4% of barristers.

On flexible court hours, 78% of respondents said they strongly disagreed that the proposals in their current form are practicable, while 74% said they would fail to meet the intended aims. Meanwhile, 67.5% of respondents said they did not think the proposals would improve services for the public.

According to the survey, 88.8% of respondents said proposals would affect those with childcare unfairly while 79.6% said it would affect overall work-life balance.

CBA chair Angela Rafferty QC said the association wanted ‘empirical and persuasive evidence’ to counter the ‘further assault on our working lives by the FOH proposal’.

Proposals for flexibile operating hours are currently on hold following an announcement by Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HMCTS, said the pilot had been delayed until a ‘robust, independent’ evaluation system was in place. Further details were expected by the end of this month. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Gazette today it had no update.