Evening court sessions were scheduled at a London magistrates’ court this week as part of a contingency plan to manage any increased arrests as a result of marches that took place on Saturday, the Gazette has learned.
Lawyers feared a fresh attempt was being made to introduce extended operating hours after Women in Criminal Law, a practitioner group, posted on X that Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court would be running evening sessions, from 4pm to 8pm, today and Thursday.
This morning, HM Courts & Tribunals Service said: ‘As part of our contingency planning, we routinely work with criminal justice partners to prepare for emerging issues, such as protests, that could lead to increased court activity and impact the wider justice system. Seeking judicial approval to run additional courts is one contingency and would only be used at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court as a temporary measure when responding to a surge in demand.
‘We’ve a statutory duty to ensure those held in custody are brought before the court as soon as practicable. None of which have been used so far this week.’
Almost 2,000 police officers were on duty across central London last weekend as part of a major policing operation to cover Armistice and Remembrance events, and a march by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. On Sunday, the Metropolitan Police said 145 arrests were made during the Pro-Palestinian demonstration and counter protest.
Any plans to introduce extended operating hours would again be met with overwhelming opposition.
The Criminal Bar Association, which previously instructed lawyers to fight Covid operating hours, said today: ‘We would like to reassure our members and wider practitioners that they are not obliged or otherwise to attend court out of hours We are mindful of the disruptive and harmful impact working outside normal hours have on practitioners, both personally and professionally, particularly on those with caring responsibilities.’
The CBA ‘do not accept there is any justification for a departure from normal court hours’ and will write to HMCTS and Highbury ‘to ask for the decision, consultation and impact assessment’.