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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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