Mark George QC reports on late court sittings

10 May 2017

Mark George KC

Garden Court North Chambers has previously condemned the decision by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to pilot late sittings in various criminal and civil courts, including the Civil Justice Centre in Manchester.

On May 9th 2017 our Head of Chambers, Mark George QC, along with about thirty others, attended a lunchtime meeting of South Yorkshire criminal lawyers and civil servants from HMCTS.

Mark’s full report on the meeting is available by clicking here. In summary:

  • The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice desire that this pilot be run;
  • Commencement of the pilot has been postponed until after the General Election;
  • Civil servants want to know the views of lawyers on the practicalities of this proposed scheme;
  • Late court openings is definitely “not a done deal”;
  • Although participants at the meeting were invited to consider “the opportunities” as well as “the challenges” of early and late court sittings, during the presentation the officials from HMCTS did not put forward a single suggested benefit to anyone from such a scheme;
  • Top amongst the objections from the assembled lawyers at the meeting was childcare and the extent to which this scheme would discriminate against women who still bear the major responsibility for childcare. Nurseries and crèches don’t open early enough or stay open late enough to allow parents to leave their children with others from 6am and collect them again at 10pm. One female solicitor pointed out that her firm would be guilty of discrimination if they required her to undertake work under this scheme and that if she took them to the tribunal where she would likely win her case the firm would not get their LAA contract renewed if there was a discrimination finding against the firm;
  • A further objection to the pilot was the issue about where lawyers would find the time to prepare for the next day’s cases if they were in court until 8.30pm, how to deal with overnight remands likely to be listed at 8am if a lawyer also has a trial that doesn’t get on until 5pm – an entirely plausible scenario, the unlikely co-operation of client’s on bail, the lack of any new remuneration for lawyers working unsocial hours, and the danger to lawyers working in city centres late at night and having to walk back to cars in almost empty car parks;
  • One interesting point that was conceded by the civil servants was that this scheme turns out to be a natural consequence of previous court closures; and
  • Defence lawyers in Sheffield want nothing to do with the pilot and do not intend to co-operate with it, which may well result in there being no pilot in Sheffield.

Chambers encourages lawyers to respond to any consultations about the pilot and to attend meeting on any pilots taking place in the areas where they practice. Hopefully, HMCTS will get the message that this scheme is rotten, discriminatory, will have massively adverse effects on the family lives of lawyers and court staff, and should be quickly abandoned.

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