Courts to Extend Hours to Deal With Backlog

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it much disruption and the courts have become one of the victims of it. Courts were closed and cases put on hold but now, extended hours will be brought in to help begin some form of recovery.

There has been a real lack of detail offered about the key measures required to help initiate and support the increase in hearings. However, hearings will take place in pop-up courts with the aim to help begin the process of bringing the backlog down. Currently, no plans have been put in place to reduce the number of jurors in trials, much to the annoyance of the legal professionals or even running trials with just a judge and two magistrates.

This has required close working between judges, staff and users as a way of identifying the required steps that will be needed in order to make the recovery plan a smooth success. Furthermore, it has been especially important to ensure that people will still be able to seek justice through the courts and tribunals.

The Plans Could Lead to a Boycott

Of course, recovery is much needed simply because it is not possible to continue to allow the backlog to increase. However, the idea of extending court hours has been met by concerns and anger from the legal profession.

Judges will have the scope to run two jury trials at the same time and in the same courtroom. This means that morning cases will run from 9 am to 1 pm and afternoon trials will be held between 2 pm and 6 pm. Furthermore, pre-trial hearings that would usually take place in the crown courts would now take place beyond the standard court hours. The aim is to hold them remotely, offering benefits to those lawyers who have caring responsibilities.

However, the plans have been met with an open letter to HM Courts & Tribunals Service which has been signed by nearly 400 solicitors and barristers. They are refusing to attend any court listings that take place beyond court hours. In response to this, the Ministry of Justice has stated that no plans are in place for weekend sittings.

Those signatories are individuals who attend the criminal courts on a regular basis and they are claiming that the government has completely ignored the breakdown of the profession, even though several warnings have been made. The government has not responded to legal aid firms closing down and duty solicitors and criminal barristers choosing to move away from the profession. Furthermore, pupils and trainees are earning a lot less than the real living wages, all of which has resulted in the courts being completely broken.

Of course, the reopening of the courts is a positive move for those victims seeking justice. Capacity is being increased and judges are being given the flexibility to open courts for longer periods while more hearings will take place online. Furthermore, the lease of pop-up Courtrooms will be extended to continue helping reduce delays.

While the plans are welcomed by those who are affected by the decisions made in court, the impact on the legal profession has to be recognised, leaving the plans in a rather precarious position.

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