Court bosses have finally confirmed the start date for the long-anticipated extended sitting hours pilot.
Six-month testing of the scheme will begin on 2 September and will consist of late sittings (4.30pm to 7pm) involving both civil and family work at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, and early (8am to 10.30am) and late sittings involving civil work only at the County Court at Brentford.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service wants to examine whether civil and family buildings can be used more effectively. This trial is designed to test whether extended hours offers better access to justice for people who want their cases heard before or after the working day.
It was announced last November that modified plans were being brought forward to test the scheme, but plans to start testing this summer have overrun. Speculation was denied earlier this year that the pilot for flexible operating hours had been cancelled altogether.
It is likely the introduction of extended hours will get a mixed response from those working in the legal profession. Some will welcome the flexibility on offer, but others have spoken out about the effect on family life for those expected to work earlier or later.
In introducing the pilot last year, HMCTS said: ‘We recognise that some legal professionals have expressed the view that this is not possible in some circumstances, but we want the pilots to test alternative ways of working and to examine the effect of changes on all participants.’
Ministers say any decisions about using flexible operating hours in the future will only be made following ‘robust assessment’ of evidence and data gathered through these pilots and a ‘comprehensive, independent evaluation’ of the impacts, costs and benefits across the justice system.