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Online petition calling on government to shelve late opening hours for courts hits target of 2,000 signatures

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Lawyers with young children could be placed at a disadvantage

Newcastle Crown Court

An online petition calling on the government to halt plans to introduce late court opening hours across England and Wales has gained over 2,000 signatures.

Last month Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) revealed that it would be launching a six-month pilot scheme to test flexible operating hours. Under the new arrangement, crown courts will remain open until 6pm, civil courts until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8:30pm.

Due to start in May, the courts earmarked for the pilot are Newcastle Crown Court, Blackfriars Crown Court, Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre and Brentford County Court.

But the plans haven’t gone down well with lawyers. An online petition, which brands the government’s plans “unfair and discriminatory,” has now clocked up its target of 2,000 signatures. The target has now been increased to 3,000.

Launched by Five Paper barrister Morwenna Macro, the call to action argues that the proposals will have a “detrimental impact” on lawyers, judges and other court users with children. It states:

…[A]ll those working in the courts deserve to have a good work/life balance, and the ability to see their children. This should not be forced upon lawyers, judges and court staff. This is a regressive step and a barrier to greater diversity in the profession and on the bench and in particular will be a further obstacle to the retention of women.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Macro — a commercial law specialist — revealed that the petition is designed to give those who were against the pilot “a voice”. Continuing, she said:

The petition has reached 2,000 signatures in just a few days with little publicity. However, many affected are still unaware.

The appeal comes just days after the chairman of the bar fired his own shots at the government’s plans. Andrew Langdon QC — who is a tenant at Guildhall Chambers — said: “these arrangements will make it almost impossible for parents with childcare responsibilities to predict if they can make the school run or to know when they will be able to pick children up from the child-minders.” He continued:

Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children. It is hard to see how these plans sit with the Government’s commitment to improving diversity in the profession and the judiciary.

A spokesperson for HMCTS explained that the pilot it designed to help it “understand how flexible hours affect all court users and will be fully evaluated before any decision is taken.”

The petition will be delivered to the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS.

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51 Comments

Anonymous

“Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children”

Andrew Langdon QC talks as if childcare is just something that randomly happens: an unpredictable, unforeseeable event (like a disease) that disproportionately impacts women.

No suggestion that this might actually be a deliberate, informed choice. In other words, a choice to have a child. A choice to prioritise its care. A choice to give up the career. A choice that generally appeals to women more than men.

(21)(20)

Anonymous

Oh yes absolutely. Women are just gagging to drop the careers they have worked for in favour of becoming childminders. It’s in their genes. Nothing whatsoever to do with society’s different expectations of men and women.

(10)(7)

Anonymous

Also – this article is about working women. It is pointing out that as a matter of fact, they are more likely to have childcare responsibilities, such that late night courts will impact them disproportionately. Are you saying that nobody should care whether women can work late or not, because they chose to have children?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

*gasp* men and women are different and make different choices!

Gosh, isn’t reality triggering!

(5)(1)

The Phantom

what an awesomely facile observation. In an age when cretinous comments abound your anonymous post is truly impressive display

(0)(0)

Bungus Fungus

Suck it up whiners! Out means out!

(7)(8)

Anonymous

Imagine all those clerks salivating at the thought of inflating brief fees.

(13)(2)

A miserable clerk

Hey! We are too busy moving our beds into chambers in advance of this……

(5)(0)

Jealous Clerk

You get beds?

I sleep in the disabled bogs.

(6)(0)

A miserable clerk

You’ve got toilets???? We have to use the cafe next to court……

(1)(0)

Jealous clerk

I live, sleep and poo naked in the gutter when I’m not in Chambers.

Dave Barrister

Can you all please return to filling my diary?

Anonymous

“Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children”

Regardless who is picking up the kids, Counsel will be earning £100-£200 per hour for these additional hours. As far as I can make out, childminders are closer to £10 per hour.

(15)(9)

Anonymous

Your analysing of legal aid fees is wrong.

More like £10-£20 per hour.

(9)(12)

Anonymous

Who earns £100-£200 per hour?!
Even if they did, which they do not, it isn’t about the money. It’s about family time!!

(7)(5)

Anonymous

Are you saying that barristers in civil litigation are not earning £100-£200 per hour?

If so, you clearly don’t work in law.

(8)(1)

Anonymous

Also re: family time, why don’t you tell Doctors what that looks like? or retail workers? or any of the 1000s of other jobs that require you to occasionally start early and finish late.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

As a junior criminal practitioner, many hearings and hours spent at court are actually not paid. Nor are the many hours we spend working at weekends and evenings. We must generally, in crime and civil, travel all over the country and even later finishes will see us travelling even earlier and later. Again, unpaid. I wonder if anyone has considered the impact this might have on clients. You have a trial running 9-1 and then something else in another court centre at the 2-6 sitting?

(4)(0)

Nwash

Some barristers do actually want the opportunity to see their kids though. Unless we are going to be expected to parent via video link from evening court? Not sure there will be enough link booths for that.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Where are the calls for supermarket opening times to be restricted? You know for those workers who can’t actually afford childcare.

The government plans to extend GP opening times also seem very popular… Selective outrage.

(8)(7)

Anonymous

I am a junior barrister of 4 years Call. Last year I made a net profit of under £30,000. I work 60-70 hours per week. I have no private healthcare, no paid holiday, no paid sick leave and if I choose to have children I will only get statutory maternity pay.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

To be fair, that is net and well above most people’s average gross. Your gross must have been ok.

Don’t get me wrong, you will complain about the student loans and hours worked, but it’s hardly on par with a lot of NHS workers who work ridiculous hours at Bands 2-6 for less money.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

The point of the article is that extending opening hours will discourage women from entering the profession. This applies equally to other professions as well, regardless of the fact that as you correctly point out other professionals are better remunerated than criminal lawyers.

(Also you won’t get statutory maternity pay that’s only for employees!)

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It has always baffled me why (the civil courts at least) rarely start before 10.30, have an hours lunch, and then finish at 4pm sharp.

Probably don’t need to go as far as they are here, just doing 9-5 would probably be the common sense approach.

(9)(1)

The Bar Necessities

Because (in the civil courts at least) there is usually an advantage to having a judge who has read at least some of the papers. If you want to get cracking at 9am sharp, that means the judges would have to be there for 7:30 to get reading. I suspect that many would baulk at this.

(11)(1)

Anonymous

The extended hours in court will have a detrimental effect on case prep and I fear corners may be cut with the level of analysis required to present a half decent defence case. At the very most this will only work for PCMH and other short hearings. We must consider the jury too who did not ‘volunteer’ to attend court.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Yeah I am happy for it to be used for interim hearings and preliminary matters, I don’t think it is viable for jury trials though.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Still lolling at the idiot thinking Counsel receive £10 an hour for legal aid work!!

(16)(1)

Anonymous

That would barely cover the grease needed to lubricate the wheels on their wheely case!

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Written like a cnut who knows nothing about legal aid rates.

You obviously do not grasp that four hearings per case are done for free.

(5)(5)

Anonymous

Chestnut? What sort of insult is that?

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Depending on the number of hours worked on a case, the take-home amount might well come out to under £10/hr

(3)(4)

Anonymous

Tell that to the chestnut.

(3)(6)

Anonymous

Considering counsel get paid £80 fixed fee for a legal aid summary trial in London. £10 per hour isn’t that far off when you consider there’ll be a couple of hours prep, a couple of hours attendance and advocacy and a couple of hours travel.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Having carried out a lot of legal aid work over the years I estimate my fees are closer to £45-£60 per hour.

Please note that tax and expenses come out from that.

Working for free and £10 an hour estimates are wrong.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

You’re getting £60/hr for day 2 of a trial?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Depends if it’s Civil Standard and Graduated Fees or Controlled Work Fees.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

The Crime rate is £0

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Where is your proof?

Anonymous

The recent consultation on changes to AFGS proposes that the second day of a trial should be paid, thereby removing the incentive to complete it in either 1 or 3 days.

Anonymous

What perceived problem are these pilots supposed to solve? So called night courts were tried and failed over 10 years ago. Plus ca change

(1)(0)

Anonymous

So what happens about overtime for HMCTS staff?

i.e. Court clerks, ushers, security, etc, who will all be needed to play some role.

At the very least they could reopen the front counters beyond the very limited period they have shrunken down to. Some places have about 3-4 hours per day in which to file documents and make payments or enquiries.

(6)(0)

Not Amused

UK courts are currently broken. We need to fix them before we demand more.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

This petition and any arguments about this issue would be far better received if it explained, and in this particular order:
1) make the business case – I assume (but I don’t have facts to support it) that longer court hours actually will not save the govt money, will cost a lot more people money, will inconvenience a lot more people and so on and so forth (I don’t have data on this, IMO I don’t think the government has any clue of the impact)
2) explain what barristers actually do and how longer hours hurts their work i.e. even less time (on criminal side) to prepare a case. Explain that many at junior end get it the night before, lack of legal aid etc.
3) explain how the court system fuctions (and probably tied into no 1) whether extra staff might be needed, how will prison transport work/can it even work etc. How the legal system works.
4) that, especially for all types of hearings, juries will have to stay late too – which will, if nothing else, annoy them.
[5) the childcare argument]

I have every sympathy with mothers and/or all working parents. But what I have zero sympathy for is the lack of basic PR knowledge by the bar and the lack of reality – if the government can force this on the courts, they absolutely will. None of them give a toss that working parents will struggle! Plenty of examples for this: last week the introduction of benefit cuts for those with more than two children, decimation of legal aid, do I really need to go on?! The govt has successfully peddled this idea that all barristers are rich, so why on earth would they bat an eyelid that the QC cannot read bedtime stories to his kids?! I can see the cartoon in the Times now.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the general public have little understanding and/or do not give a toss about giving time for childcare. So, this has to be explained in a way that any person could understand – explaining the practical and financial cost/headache/nightmare that later hours would result in, will do the trick. Admittedly, that argument may not work, but it’s a damn sight better than banging on about children that the general public will not feel sorry for.

Until there is a better idea, I expect the bar to be making the business case front and centre of their responses. As part of that is the opportunity to explain how the courts work and why access to justice matters for the ordinary public. Then the soft stuff.

But you cannot expect, as a profession, for the government to listen to anything you say if you aren’t even making an argument that they can hear, let alone do something with.

(2)(0)

Morwenna Macro

At least I tried. I am one Barrister who thought, for once, I would speak up and try to do something about a proposal I am deeply concerned about. I do make the point that it is unworkable and that it impacts on all those who work in and use the courts.

If you think that you can contribute to the debate please please join in. The more of us that make a strong case against, the more likely they will listen.

Please sign, share the petition and add your comments and please do all you can to make all good arguments against heard.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I can only guess that someone believes there is an economy of scale by lengthening Court hours. It would be useful to review their published figures if they exist – please post the link if this is available.

This benefit would need to outweigh the increased costs of additional barristers, solicitors, Court staff, prison staff and other associated Court users.

I can perhaps see the benefit to Magistrate offences as they are low level with a lesser impact if things go wrong. If matters affect Crown Court then the punishment could involve prison so this is a step to be considered very carefully. Likewise, Civil Courts can have devastating cost consequences to losers so errors can destroy businesses.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Magistrates courts deal with 95% of criminal matters, and are the first court in 100% of criminal matters- so it doesn’t matter if these ‘go wrong’?? Not even sure what you mean by saying ‘go wrong’…
Also- just responding to the childcare point in the original post- what about people without children? Don’t their lives, relationships, other responsibilities, matter?

(2)(2)

Anonymous

By ‘going wrong’ it meant that if it’s to fail, it should do so at the lowest level where prison is unlikely or heavy financial penalties are also less likely. Controlled risk.

(2)(0)

Skuda

There are real questions as to where the money is going to come from. CPS lawyers will need to be employed as public sector workers. The defence lawyers are on fixed fees so won’t be getting any extra money to pay staff for longer hours.
Paying for extra security, cell staff and court officers is part of it but the prisons would have to maintain later reception times and staff levels. The private sector secure transport will make a killing on providing additional vans.
So who are these people who can’t get to court during the day? There appears to be no evidence that there’s even a need to justify the huge expense to the public purse.
It’s the same old sound bite politics with no reflection on the ability of a shattered system to cope.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

If court goes late then presumably you would start later or even work four days a week…

This could be very flexible for all the male chestnuts and female chestnuts who have caring responsibilities.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

bwahaha. Employers will just say the contract involves flexible working hours and accept it before then looking to blame the Court.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.