The government has announced today that the Flexible Operating Hours pilot will begin in spring 2019.
HMCTS plans to pilot extended court opening hours in two civil and family courts in Manchester and Brentford, Middlesex. There will be no pilot in the criminal courts.
We believe this scaled down pilot project is a welcome indication the government is beginning to recognise the fragility of the criminal legal aid sector.
Although participation is voluntary, we remain concerned that solicitors with children or other caring responsibilities, as well as more junior practitioners and some religious groups, may be disadvantaged by these longer hours.
We are pleased HMCTS have taken on board our recommendation for legal aid solicitors to be compensated, although we would like to have further details on this.
The pilot will run for six months and test:
- whether civil and family buildings can be used more effectively
- the benefits of enabling people to attend court outside usual sitting hours (10:00-16:00), and
- what more flexibility means for legal professionals and staff
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