Covid-19 operating hours will not continue beyond June, HM Courts & Tribunals Service has said, as it gave lawyers an extra four days to respond to a rapid consultation on the controversial model.
HMCTS has been piloting Covid-19 operating hours in seven Crown court centres as part of a coronavirus recovery plan and now wants to widen its use. A two-week consultation opened towards the end of last month. Lawyers originally had until Thursday to respond but HMCTS has decided to extend the deadline to Monday.
As part of the consultation, HMCTS invited lawyers to submit questions between 1 and 4 December and published a 'high-level readout' of a Q&A session delivered on Monday.
HMCTS said Nightingale courts and increased Cloud Video Platform usage were not enough deal with the ‘significant’ Crown court backlog. However, ‘COH would be a temporary measure and would be time limited. We have already proposed a formal review in April 2021, but based on feedback received to date, we would further propose that COH would cease to operate in the Crown court beyond the end of June 2021', it added.
Several questions were submitted on potential discrimination against those with childcaring responsibilities.
HMCTS said: ‘Representations can be made by parties (supported by reasons), for example at the For Mention Hearing which takes place in advance of confirming whether the trial will be listed into a COH court or a standard hours court. Alongside this are provisions for practitioners to make an application to move a case should attendance at a COH court be impractical, supported by reasons.
‘Potential adverse impacts on people with caring responsibilities can therefore be mitigated. As well as mitigating concerns about indirect sex discrimination, this should also address potential adverse impacts linked to days of religious observance (the religion and belief characteristic), if they are reflected in listing decisions.
‘We understand that there is a possibility that barristers with caring responsibilities, who are disproportionately women, are not given briefs by their chambers. Another knock-on effect is that clients may decline or wish to change their representation if their lawyer cannot attend a COH hearing, rather than wait for a standard hours one.
‘Clearly, it is difficult for HMCTS to absolutely mitigate for decisions made by either lawyers’ chambers or clients, but we would point to COH’s “blended” approach, in which one court with “traditional” hours will always run alongside a COH court. We feel that this offers a further key mitigation to address potential adverse impacts.’