Extended Crown Court operating hours – JLD response

The proposals

On 9 July, the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) set out plans for the recovery of the Crown Court following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The blog proposed increasing capacity by extending court operating hours to deal with the backlog of Crown Court cases.

Read more about HMCTS’ recovery plans

Our view

There’s a backlog of over 500,000 outstanding cases in the criminal courts of England and Wales.

This is unacceptable; the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) strongly believes something needs to be done now to clear the backlog.

However, extending court hours is not the solution.

The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, already stated on 23 June that extending hours “does not take us to the level where we fill the whole of the gap to get disposals to equal level of receipts”.

The government needs to come up with more creative solutions, such as:

  • Nightingale courts
  • fully using every criminal court in the jurisdiction by paying for more recorders (part-time judges) to hear cases

What this means for junior lawyers

The extension of court hours would mean increased workloads will be covered by the already depleting number of practitioners working in criminal, civil and family courts.

How can the government expect our members and other practitioners to pick up the backlog without adequate remuneration, particularly for unsociable hours?

Our members already work significantly long days, many of whom have caring responsibilities to consider.

Our members are at risk of being pressured to work for longer hours for little, if any, additional remuneration.

We’re concerned that the proposed changes will significantly impact on their mental, and possibly physical, health.

Next steps

We implore the government to reconsider and invest more money into what is increasingly becoming a broken system.

The government needs to open more courts and increase funding for judges and legal aid fees alike to get the system working again.

Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we call on the Treasury to ensure the justice system is properly funded so it can effectively dispense justice without compromising those working within it.

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