The Flexible Court Hours scheme has been a controversial issue and initiative since it was first mooted some time ago by the MOJ. Whilst the pilot of the scheme in civil and family courts in Manchester and Brentford may be relatively limited, the abandonment of the proposals for the criminal courts comes as a welcome relief for most if not all criminal practitioners. The reality is that advocates and other court professionals already attend court often as early as 9am., for example to see clients on early prison video links, for court duty solicitor schemes with mandatory 9am starts stipulated by the LAA, and often courts implement their own local variable sitting times. It is of course a misconception that that an advocate just turns up on the stroke of 10am and walks straight into court. Furthermore, 4pm as a cut off is in reality a fallacy so the fact that formal varied hours will not now be forced upon us is good news. Far from benefiting legal professionals who already lead somewhat chaotic lives extending into unsociable hours, the formal extension of the court day at both ends, e.g. with a start from perhaps 8am and a finish at 8pm or later, would place even greater strains upon professionals and their families who inevitably would suffer as a result.
As for the family and civil courts, one might surmise that the same difficulties are likely to arise, but the devil will be in the detail. At least for now, one body of lawyers, namely those practising in the criminal courts can breathe a sigh of relief – whether this is permanent or temporary remains to be seen.
Partner, Russell & Russell