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The Junior Lawyers Division has responded to the HMCTS Flexible Operating Hours Pilots prospectus.
In October 2017, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) published further details of their plans for the flexible operating hours scheme. The aim is to provide a more efficient and effective justice system.
As part of the programme of reform, HMCTS is looking at options to use court rooms and hearing rooms at different times of day, outside the traditional hours of 10am to 4pm.
As such, they developed a small number of pilots to test these options, known as ’flexible operating hours pilots’.
The prospectus, which invited comments to the proposals, confirms that the HMCTS is currently tendering for an independent organisation to evaluate the pilots, which are due to go ahead in February 2018.
At this stage, the proposals only affect the civil and criminal courts, with civil courts remaining open until 7pm, magistrates until 8:30pm and crown courts until 6pm. There are also proposals for virtual hearings.
The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) is supportive of the HMCTS reforming the courts to ensure a more efficient and effective justice system.
However, the JLD has concerns that the current proposals will result in increased workloads and longer working hours for junior lawyers.
The JLD is also concerned that the proposals will adversely affect equality and diversity, particularly impacting those with childcare responsibilities and disabilities.
HMCTS sought comments by 1 December 2017 (now closed), but you can download the full prospectus below.
In November 2018, HMCTS announced that they would be testing flexible operating hours in civil and family courts in Manchester and Brentford commencing in spring 2019.
In response, the JLD wrote to the Ministry of Justice outlining further its concerns about the proposals and the impact this would have upon junior lawyers.
The JLD received a response to its letter on 20 December 2018 from the chair of the HMCTS Evaluation Advisory Group (EAG).
The purpose of the Evaluation Advisory Group is to bring together external stakeholders to ensure that the external evaluator understands the potential impact on those participating in the pilot.
The Law Society is a member of the EAG and is reviewing the evaluation framework.
The JLD has been invited to meet with the chair of the EAG ahead of the publication of the evaluation framework to discuss any matters that will affect our members.
We will update our members on the outcome of that meeting in due course.
HMCTS is due to commence a pilot on flexible court operating hours in autumn 2019 in courts in Manchester and Brentford.
The JLD will monitor the impact of the pilot on junior lawyers and is providing feedback to HMCTS through the Law Society.
As part of this, the JLD is keen to speak to junior lawyers in Manchester and Brentford who use the courts and are likely to be affected by the pilot.
If you’re a junior lawyer affected by the pilot and would be willing to provide feedback, contact the Junior Lawyers Division.