The government has restated its commitment to testing the effectiveness of late night – and early morning – court cases with plans for a new trial.
HM Courts and Tribunal Service has confirmed details for a new pilot to take place over six months from this autumn. Six courts have been selected for the trial, which was put forward as an idea in March before the testing was put back by the general election.
Inactivity on the issue since then had led some to believe the government had dropped the proposal in the face of widespread opposition. But it is clear ministers are committed to seeing if the idea can work and what benefits, including financial, can be found.
The details of the pilot are:
- In Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown Courts, running one session from 9.30am to 1.30pm, then another session (for different cases) from 2pm to 6pm
- In Blackfriars, trying a version of this where the morning is used for Crown Court cases, and the afternoon for magistrates’ court cases
- In another courtroom in Blackfriars, testing magistrates’ court sitting from 9am and Crown Court cases sitting until 5.30pm
- In Sheffield and Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Courts, holding three sessions each day. In Sheffield sessions will start at 8am and finish at 6pm, while in Highbury Corner they will start at 10am and finish at 8pm
- In Manchester and Brentford, in the civil and family court, adding either an early or a late slot, the early session running from 8am to 10.45am and the later one from 4.30pm to 7pm.
In a blog to publicise the pilot, HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said the idea is to explore how to use buildings better and give court users more options when they need to come to court.
She added: ‘Because the different slots would be for different cases, lawyers and judges wouldn’t have longer days in court – they would have similar hours, but at different times.’
Acland-Hood said the department has worked closely with judges and various organisations to design the pilot, which does not have a specific start date yet.
Designers have also learnt from courts and tribunals which already sit out of traditional hours, as well as other jurisdictions such as the US, Australia and Singapore where there exist more flexible arrangements.
Acland-Hood acknowledged the view that such changes increase the ‘unpredictability’ of workloads, but she said others have welcomed potential shifts in working patterns.
‘We have heard from some that moving to a more flexible system, if well managed, could offer more opportunities for those with childcare and other caring responsibilities and that, by enabling legal professionals to work more effectively - accessing and progressing cases in a different way and at different times of the day – we would reduce the need to travel or wait around at court for hours.’
She said the £300m cost of running the court and tribunal estate could be reduced by ensuring existing court buildings are in use before 10am and after 4.30pm.
She stressed that the results will be properly analysed to see where – and if – the extended court hours work best.