Legal aid practitioners will be paid up to a £100 a time to help the government test early and late sittings in civil and family courts. HM Courts & Tribunals Service says ‘the small amount of funding’ has been made available to reflect the potential burden the tests will create.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service decided earlier this year to make a ‘participation fee’ available to practitioners taking part in the six-month pilots of flexible court hours at Brentford County Court, in greater London, and Manchester Civil Justice Centre.
Today, it announced that practitioners will be paid £100 for attending a housing duty solicitor slot and £50 for a single hearing.
HMCTS said it is testing the benefits of making it possible for people to attend court outside of the ‘traditional 10am-4pm sitting days’. However, the fees will only apply to practitioners who attend court outside the hours of 9am and 5.30pm. ‘This decision has been made to reflect the short-term change in arrangements for participating legal professionals and the potential financial burden for firms involved,’ the agency said.
The fees will be administered by the Legal Aid Agency and will be separate to normal legal aid claims.
The Ministry of Justice announced the Brentford and Manchester pilots last year. But the department decided not to pilot flexible hours in criminal courts after a backlash when the idea was floated (and later postponed) in 2017.
The civil pilots, which were supposed to begin this spring, are now expected to begin by the summer. An independent evaluator has been appointed to evaluate the pilots, which will report back in ‘early’ 2020.