Covid Court: You don’t have to go home, and you have to stay here

December 11, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Covid-19 operating hours (COH) have been piloted in several Crown Courts across the UK to attempt to handle case backlog, however, many legal professionals are complaining about the impact these hours have on their wellbeing.

What does this mean?

Court case backlog is a prominent and well-discussed problem, with notable figures such as Twitter’s ‘TheSecretBarrister’ often discussing the multiple year wait that clients are faced with to see the inside of a courtroom. This problem has only been compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic which saw no courts operating for a period of several months. To combat this HM Courts & Tribunals Service have trialled a new system that saw several courts operate different hours to the standard 10.30 am-4.30 pm 5-hour court day. Instead, at these courts, there were A courts and B courts, with the former running from 9 am-1 pm and the latter running from 2 pm-6 pm. This change saw a supposed 3.5 trials per courtroom per week being conducted, as opposed to the 0.9 cases per week in a standard court. HM Courts & Tribunals is therefore keen to further roll out this system, however, legal professionals fearing a detriment to their wellbeing have until 10 December 2020 to register their concerns.

What's the big picture effect?

There is a misconception, due to the short-listed regular hours of courts, that barristers, judges and other legal professionals have an easy day. However, talking to legal professionals, a common complaint is the long working hours. These ‘hidden hours’ come about due to barristers’ self-employed nature, which means several hours will be spent on arduous court prep, travel and client contact, for cases that can often end up being pushed back or handed over to other barristers. Therefore, the new COH represent a serious risk to legal professionals’ wellbeing, as many have already reported the B courts leave them arriving home late at night leaving them no time for their own personal lives. Moreover, earlier starts fail to take into account the travel times many face, which can often be upwards of an hour to far-flung courts.

In recognition of this, HM Courts & Tribunals have asked professionals to come forward to answer four key questions, these are.

  • How do you think we could improve the proposed COH model?
  • What features of the COH model work well and should be strengthened?
  • What would we need to consider in the transition and roll out of COH?
  • Are there other user groups in the criminal justice system that we should consider, and why?

Notably however, Law Society president David Greene has already come forward saying that ‘extending court hours would have a significant impact on court users’.

Report written by Hari Majumdar

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