The Bar Council has advised against extended court sittings, as a petition rejecting the government’s proposals garners more than 4,200 signatories.
A Protocol on Court Sitting Hours, published by the Bar Council, suggested that courts and tribunals should only sit between 10am and 4.30pm, except in cases of ‘genuine urgency’ or where a judge considers it is in the interests of justice to extend a hearing. Where the latter is the case it said the judge should give all parties at least 24 hours’ notice.
The Bar Council said the protocol was not a direct response to HMCTS’s planned Flexible Operating Hours pilots, but that the proposals ‘run counter to our attempts to improve the retention of women at the Bar’.
It said a ‘tendency has developed to list cases increasingly early or late’ which has ‘widespread implications’ for the ability of barristers to manage their practices, wellbeing and caring or personal commitments.
Under the government’s plan, to be piloted in six court centres, Crown courts would start sitting at 9am, and sit until 6pm instead of finishing at 4pm, civil courts will sit until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8.30pm.
An online petition opposing the scheme, started by Morweena Macro, a commercial and Chancery barrister at Five Paper Buildings, has gained more than 4,200 signatures.
An HMCTS spokesman said: ‘We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people.’