Extended court sitting pilot postponed

The government has suspended the pilots of the controversial court sitting proposals until next year.

The chief executive on HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Susan Acland-Hood, told practitioners through the second of her series of online blogs, which she began this week. 

The six-month pilots, which were due to begin at Blackfriars Crown Court, Brentford County Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Newcastle Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, next month have been postponed until February.

Acland-Hood said the scheme, which would see some courts sitting at 8am and others remaining open until 8.30pm, had been ‘controversial with many in the legal profession’ and that she understood why. She said she had listened to the ‘strong views’ expressed and had agreed to delay the start of the pilot until there was a ‘robust, independent evaluation system in place’.

She said that the tender process, run over the summer to find an independent organisation to undertake the evaluation had not delivered a satisfactory outcome and would be rerun. And pledged to make more information available about the plans and spend more time consulting with legal professionals.

Far from abandoning the scheme, Acland-Hood said more pilots might be introduced to test Crown Court work in the morning and tribunals work in the same courtroom in the afternoon.

She added: ‘We’ll now use this time to further engage and listen to all involved in the justice system, from legal professionals to HMCTS officials, from the judiciary to members of the public – to get the best outcome for those who depend on a modern, efficient and effective justice system.’

Responding, the Bar chairman, Andrew Langdon QC, said: ‘Whilst plans for flexible courts have not been dropped, it is encouraging to see HMCTS not only take on board the Bar Council’s concerns about the plans, which include the impact they will have on barristers with child and other care responsibilities, but they also commit to ensuring robust evaluation measures are in place before proceeding with the pilot.’

He added: ‘Past experience shows that rushing into decisions can backfire on the government, employment tribunal fees and the impact of LASPO on vulnerable people being just two examples’.

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