Listing Crown court cases that can be heard at short notice creates a barrier to a more diverse legal profession, criminal defence practitioners have said.
A warned list consists of cases that are listed for trial to start on any day within a defined window as opposed to a fixture where a case is fixed to start on a specific date. Judges decide which cases go in the warned list.
In his latest weekly message, Criminal Bar Association chair Mark Fenhalls QC (pictured) says warned lists in the Crown court are a ‘significant barrier’ to those caring for young children who wished to return to practice.
‘By way of illustration, should a parent returning to practice be instructed in a case where s/he knows that the [plea and trial preparation hearing] will be adjusted to allow him/her to attend and then that case is given a fixed date, then s/he can make the appropriate child care arrangements that will probably make all the difference as to whether or not that case is economic,’ Fenhalls said.
‘Without such steps the sheer uncertainty is a huge barrier to returners and there will be substantial damage done to the diversity of our cadre of advocates and the pool from which future judges are often chosen.’
Zoe Gascoyne, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said Crown court listings needed to be reformed ‘urgently’.
The listing of cases created problems for any advocate wanting to work part-time, whether at the independent bar or employed, she said.
‘Many advocates, particularly those with a young family, seek financial security through employment with firms,’ Gascoyne said.
‘In order to fulfil that employment, it is essential that they are able to cover cases from the outset and this is often made increasingly difficult when cases are moved in and out of lists over long periods of time.’
A number of cases are ‘short-warned’ to cover the large number of settlements that occur in the warned list, HM Courts & Tribunals states on its website.
Parties in cases that are selected to be short-warned will be notified that their case is likely to be listed from a specified date and that they may be listed at less than a day’s notice from that date.
Around six cases are short-warned in any specified week.