Members Announcement:  Extended Operating Hours 03.12.20

Please find attached two important documents for your urgent consideration:

Letter to HMCTS on behalf of the CBA setting out our strong objections to the further expansion of EOH across our jurisdiction

Report of the CBA Working Group on Court Capacity, published today on the CBA website

The Report is the considered response of the Criminal Bar Association to the HMCTS ‘Consultation with Legal Professionals on Covid Operating Hours in the Crown Courts’; a consultation which commenced on 27th November and which will end on 10th December 2020. We invite you to read both the letter and the report with great care regardless of whether you intend to respond to the consultation or not. If you do decide to submit your views to HMCTS you may find the content of the letter and the Report helpful in considering any points you wish to make.

‘Covid Operating Hours’ means Extended Operating Hours [EOH], a policy that was previously abandoned (following widespread objections) for implementation in the criminal courts in 2018, further to pilots in 2017. EOH in the Crown Courts means sitting from 9-1pm and 2-6pm as two ‘shift’ courts, operating out of the same courtroom.

We are of the view that the present purported ‘consultation’ is a sham, intended to give a veneer of legal legitimacy to EOH which is currently scheduled for a national roll out in January 2021.

In the CBA letter and Report we express grave concerns about:

  • the legality of the proposed scheme, because of its’ discriminatory impact (specifically in relation to gender and race, but also on grounds of religion and disability)
  • the foreseeable consequences of the scheme for the administration of justice. We do not accept that it will deliver the speculative increase in court capacity HMCTS suggest. We make proposals in our report for better, more cost effective, solutions.
  • the deleterious impact for witnesses and defendants
  • the absence of a sunset clause for the change in sitting hours. We do not accept assurances that it will be temporary.

We also express grave concerns for the public health implications for all court users: we are not satisfied that the scheme has been properly Covid risk assessed by HMCTS and we have seen no independent evaluation of the public health consequences of the scheme.

Notwithstanding that HMCTS has imposed an absurdly short deadline (10th December) for the submission of responses, we would encourage you to make your own views known to HMCTS by emailing them [email protected]

Ideally, your views should include responses to the ‘consultation’ questions which you can find at pages 45-47 of our Report.

The relevant consultation documents can be found on this link: Court and tribunal recovery update in response to coronavirus – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you agree with the CBA’s formal responses to the consultation questions you are welcome to refer to any or all parts of our letter and Report. Alternatively, you may wish simply to adopt any or all of our responses to those questions.

We emphasise that, as practitioners who will be directly and indirectly affected by the roll out of EOH, it is your opinion that matters.

If you feel you have been afforded insufficient time by HMCTS to respond in any detail (because of your working or other commitments) then please state that in your email to them.

Best wishes,

James Mulholland QC – Chair

Jo Sidhu QC – Vice Chair

Lucie Wibberley – Chair of The Criminal Bar Association Working Group on Court Capacity

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