Junior lawyers have warned that they could be adversely affected by proposals to roll out early morning and late-night sittings in some civil proceedings, after the government agreed to ditch similar plans for criminal cases.
In a letter to the Ministry of Justice, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) warns that its concerns have not been alleviated despite the government’s changes. It said the plans will result in increased workloads and longer working hours, and place a strain on those with disabilities or childcare responsibilities.
From Spring 2019 a flexible operating hours (FOH) pilot will be introduced at Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. Both courts will be open from 8am to 7pm rather than the usual 10am to 4pm.
The JLD, which represents students to solicitors with five years’ PQE, said: ‘Whilst we are pleased to see that it has been confirmed that the criminal courts will not be included, we note that the new pilot proposals do not alleviate our main concerns as set out above.’ It added that the type of hearings which could form part of the pilot (small claims, inter-applications, possession work, first direction hearings, infant approval hearings etc) are ‘typically areas of work undertaken by the junior end of the profession and as such our concerns still stand’.
Writing for the Gazette today, justice minister Lucy Frazer says she hopes the pilot will ‘alleviate some of the stress’ that is associated with attending court by allowing people the opportunity to fit attendance around their everyday lives.
She writes that lawyers, judges and court staff will have the option of working in different patterns to those of the traditional court day. ‘For some this may be an opportunity, but we recognise that it may be more difficult for others,’ she says.
The pilots will be limited to certain types of case. However, for solicitors to be inclined to engage with the pilot, HMCTS will need to expand on precisely what cases it deems suitable to be dealt with out of hours.
Practitioners in family law have safety concerns over potentially highly emotional parties leaving court in the evening – when there is an increased of violence. There alsp fears that the solicitor-client relationship could suffer if solicitors are unable or reluctant to attend court out of hours. Costs to the client could also rise for working unsocial hours.