A government pilot allowing barristers and solicitors to bypass onerous court security measures has been hit by controversy after it emerged that several courts will not be participating in the fast-track scheme - and that barristers may have to pay a fee.
From Wednesday, barristers and solicitors will be allowed to bypass checks at Brighton Magistrates' Court, Maidstone Combined Court, Southwark Crown Court, Tameside Magistrates' Court and Wood Green Crown Court as part of a 'Professional Entry Scheme' piloted by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. Barristers will identify themselves with a Bar Council app while Law Society members will show an approved photo ID. In a 'second strand' to the pilot, members of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association will be able to access other courts with their professional IDs.
However, a member of the bar reacted furiously at the news that they may have to pay for their electronic IDs:
We finally achieve a pilot for easier entry to courts only to be told that the Bar Council intend to charge us a fee for issuing electronic ID if this is rolled out nationwide. Unbelievable. Adding to the financial burden of the Criminal Bar...— Andrew Fitch-Holland (@jurybrief) August 29, 2018
Wait— Mary Aspinall-Miles (@MAM12CP) August 29, 2018
So glad that my membership fees are used wisely. Oh... https://t.co/aK6vujyyxr
A Bar Council spokesperson confirmed to the Gazette that members will not have to pay a fee during the pilot. However, the spokesperson said: 'Depending on the outcome of the pilot and any subsequent national rollout by HMCTS of the scheme, the Bar Council will need to charge a fee to cover the costs involved in developing the app that enables thousands of barristers to have the appropriate ID system for fast-track court entry. The priority is to make sure barristers can access the courts through a system that works effectively.'
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that several courts have been excluded from the pilot programme while arrangements are made with their PFI [private finance initiative] operators. These are: Ipswich and Cambridge Crown courts; magistrates' courts in Hereford, Kidderminster, Worcester, Redditch, Hull, Beverley and Bridlington; and the combined courts in Exeter and North Somerset.
A ministry spokesperson said: 'Keeping our buildings and the people who use them safe remains our priority and we have always said that the scheme would not be implemented in courts with higher level security arrangements.'
The CLSA tweeted today that there were 'all sorts of reasons' why some courts are not taking part in the pilot and called for patience:
The pilot has not started, nothing has yet been discussed with @HMCTSgovuk about any future scheme. If we can make this pilot work it will make a future scheme easier to set up. There are all sorts of reasons why some courts are not taking part in the pilot for @CrimeSolicitors https://t.co/CLUb0HuHMp— CLSA (@CrimeSolicitors) August 30, 2018