HM Courts and Tribunals Service was planning to test late night courts this month in an effort to understand how to make the system more flexible for all users.
The six-month pilot scheme, currently on hold pending the general election, will rely on the assistance of lawyers who have already been subject to public funding cuts and a flood of civil justice reforms in recent weeks.
Two silks at Exchange Chambers believe it is unlikely to succeed.
“It is pure hypocrisy to run this pilot scheme on the basis of improving access to justice for working people,” said Will Waldron QC.
“Excessive court fees and withdrawal of public funding across the board – not court opening hours – are compromising access to justice. The Ministry of Justice is fiddling while Rome burns. The court system is on its knees and gimmicks like this won’t fix it.”
Said Amanda Yip QC:
“This idea really troubles me.
“I am concerned that if introduced on a permanent basis it will drive many barristers away from the Bar and will particularly impact on diversity. The reality is that more women than men will be affected. It will make childcare impossible – financially, practically and emotionally. Junior barristers will feel they have to work extended court hours if asked to do so even at the risk of never seeing their children.
“When my children were younger, balancing a career at the Bar with being a parent was difficult, but manageable. I’d often rush home at the end of the day, put my children to bed and then carry on working during the evening, preparing the next day’s cases. If barristers are still at court until late evening, work life balance will become impossible. I honestly feel I would have left the Bar had this idea been implemented when I had a young family. It is hard enough to juggle work and home without evening sittings. I hope there will be a rethink.”
The Law Society has said that any proposal would require robust evaluation to assess the impact, while the Bar Council has also warned that extended hours would be ‘almost impossible’ for parents with childcare responsibilities.