A criminal defence solicitor has given a resounding ‘no’ to attending court on a Saturday afternoon at short notice.
Keima Payton, of London firm Payton’s Solicitors, discovered this week that an exceptional hardship application has been listed for 3pm on Saturday 18 July.
She said on Twitter: ‘I am not going. It’s my son’s birthday and I have plans. People make plans on Saturdays! [HM Courts & Tribunals Service chief executive] Do your worst. I am NOT attending. We need NOTICE to work weekends (like duties). Just no. Hard NO!’
An HMCTS coronavirus recovery plan published last week stated that extended operating hours will begin this month to tackle a backlog of over 480,000 cases in the magistrates’ courts.
Payton told the Gazette: ‘There’s been no consultation, no discussion about this. Just a determination by HMCTS that we’re going to court on a Saturday. Why do they think they can throw a sixth day in our week and not give notice? People have plans. People make plans. I’m allowed to make plans at the weekends.
‘I already work weekends. All criminal defence lawyers work weekends. We work Saturdays, and Monday to Friday, and through the night. We’re used to giving a lot, in fact too much. This is not right. This is not fair. They’re taking advantage of our better nature.
'We need a consultation before they can make us work a sixth day. Eleven days' notice for a listing on a Saturday does not seem right. This should require our consent. People can work on a Saturday if they like but it should not be foisted upon the rest of us.'
Law Society president Simon Davis said the profession was already under great physical and financial strain, and on call to police stations at all hours.
‘Extended hours would seriously hit those with caring responsibilities and those at heightened risk of Covid-19 - who will be forced to travel in rush hour when they are most exposed. The impact on victims and witnesses would also be severe,' Davis said.
‘Before looking at extended hours the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts & Tribunals Services must ensure that it is making maximum use of normal court hours and the existing court estate, quickly take up further building space and avoid any restrictions on judges sitting while there are court rooms (real, virtual or Blackstone) available.’
An HMCTS spokesperson said: ‘Magistrates courts have always sat on Saturdays. Parties can apply to have the case moved to a weekday if attendance is difficult.’
The agency said temporary changes have been made to Saturday courts to include cases relating to traffic offences. The agency pointed out that listing decisions are made by the judiciary.