A new scheme for ‘flexible court hours’ previously due to be rolled out over the next six weeks has now been put on hold by the Government, according to reports.
The controversial flexible court hours scheme, which will see the crown court sit until 6pm, civil courts until 7pm, and magistrates until 8.30pm, has attracted much criticism from the legal sector in recent months.
The scheme was due to go ahead imminently, until the Government announced earlier this week that it would be put on hold for the time being amid the ongoing concerns.
Robert Bourns, President of the Law Society, is one of many who has contested the scheme of late.
Mr Bourns has raised concerns that solicitors would be expected to attend court during unsociable hours under the scheme, in exchange for no uplift in pay, as fees for criminal legal aid work have not increased for more than 20 years.
He added that the goodwill and morale of the criminal defence community had severely diminished following an 8.75 per cent cut in fees in 2014, with the possibility of further cuts on the horizon.
In response to the concerns raised, Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, has now confirmed that pilots of the scheme will be delayed until the department is satisfied that it has a robust, independent evaluation system in place.
She added that the consultation process will now be re-opened in order to recruit an independent organisation to lead the evaluation work.
“Many of the concerns raised about flexible operating hours point to issues in the way cases are currently scheduled and listed,” she said.
“Unpredictability features in the system now, and makes it difficult for many to contemplate anything that increases the window in which cases might take place.
“Of course, listing is a judicial function and judges must always have the final say,” she added.
“They must balance many things in making their decisions, and there will always be a case for ‘warned lists’ while so many trials do not go ahead as planned.
“But, as part of our reform programme, we know we need to improve the way we do the work that underpins and informs those judicial decisions. And we think there’s scope to make a lot of difference.”