Skip to main content

Monday Message – 24.04.17

Chair’s Update: 
Francis FitzGibbon QC

Double Shifts
I have had helpful meetings with judges and HMCTS officials, to gain a better understanding of the ‘Flexible Operating Hours’ pilot scheme, and to communicate our views about its manifest flaws. My sense is that the basic premises of the scheme are highly questionable: namely, that the efficiency of a Court can be measured by the number of hours that the judge is on the bench, and efficiency can be increased by extending those hours.  
Any pilot has built-in limitations:  the worse it is designed and evaluated, the less accurately it will forecast how well a broader scheme can work. People adapt their behaviour to fit the pilot, in ways that cannot be replicated in the full-scale scheme.  
The adaptations to normal business that the participants will have to make in this pilot are likely to give a misleading result, if the aim is to scale it up to cover most or all Courts.  The compromises necessary to make it ‘work’ are the very things that are likely to make its full-scale implementation fail. Cases with children or vulnerable witnesses are to be excluded; participation by judges and court staff will be voluntary; the plan is to have no custody cases in the afternoon shift – but how can anyone tell in advance? Advocates briefed weeks before cases are listed have a professional obligation not to return the case because of an inconvenient listing; people may find themselves briefed in morning and afternoon shifts on the same day or on consecutive days; and over time we will be juggling mornings and afternoons, and work patterns will become even less predictable than they are now. This will play havoc with other professional commitments, let alone care responsibilities and that thing called ‘life’.  Test the pilot, and any eventual scaling-up, by asking: will it improve diversity in the profession now, and in the judiciary of the future?
This is not special pleading for our profession. We have shown ourselves willing time and again to make reforms work, when they are in the public interest. I don’t see how it is in the public interest to overload the criminal (and civil) courts with significant extra burdens at a time when the justice system is creaking under the existing pressures it already has to contend with.
It remains to be seen whether the general election will delay the pilot’s intended May start. Conversations with officials are continuing. They are being made aware of the obvious and the less obvious difficulties that advocates will face.
Executive Committee – 26th April
The meeting is at 6pm at Trinity Chambers, Newcastle – all CBA members are welcome, especially those likely to be affected by the double-shift pilot at Newcastle Crown Court.
Future Bar Training
The Bar Standards Board have come round to the Bar’s and the Council of the Inns of Court’s proposal for a more condensed and affordable method of professional post-graduate training. It is one of four routes to qualification that they will back, as from 2018. Their willingness to listen to the profession’s reasoned case is to be warmly welcomed.
New BSB Handbook
The BSB have published the 3rd edition of the Handbook, which is in force now.
Here are the latest LAA travel allowance figures. Burnley and St Albans have been restored to their rightful places on the map.
VHCC – Prosecution Fees
The CPS have decided to pay counsel’s preparation fees in VHCC cases quarterly instead of monthly, to the consternation of some people. The CPS tell me that they will give sympathetic consideration to individuals for whom this causes real difficulty.
Time Estimates
At least one Judge has asked advocates to include a forecast of the length of the jury’s deliberations when we give our time estimates for trials at the PTPH. It will usually be difficult, but we should at least make it clear whether or not the estimate includes that forecast.
Money Laundering Regulations 2017 
They come into force on 26th June 2017, in compliance with the EU’s Fourth Money Laundering Directive. The consultation and draft regulations can be found here.
Prisons & Courts Bill
Another casualty of the General Election. Its progress through Parliament has ended, at least for the time being.

AGFS Reform

MOJ have informed me that due to General Election ‘purdah’, they will not be issuing their final response to the AGFS reform consultation until after the election.

View more news