Lawyers put their foot down about Ken’s Weekend Court Plans
- 29th August 2012
The Justice Minister has been pressurising officials into taking part in new “flexible” court hearing, asking staff to work evening sessions and hold full trials on Saturdays and Sundays.
Prosecutors had been promised overtime pay and extra time off; whilst criminal defence solicitors were told they would receive no extra pay.
The weekend court plans have been widely criticised by legal professionals. Chief amongst the complaints was that the weekend court pilots had been enforced without any discussion, that reforms would put law firms out of pocket and disrupt family lives. Whilst the weekend court plans might work in certain areas, many are arguing that it is madness to enforce it on all agencies and that the Ministry of Justice could have worked with the legal profession to better identify the areas and the structure for the pilot scheme.
A big concern is that in some areas there is a lack of court cases to make the scheme worthwhile; in some regions there aren’t even enough court cases during the week. There’s also the question of staffing costs affecting taxpayers as staff are forced to work outside of office hours. Many believe that the issue of the cost of weekend courts has yet to be addressed.
Some pilot schemes have already been scrapped after having faced strong resistance. Court clerks refused to turn up in magistrate courts across Staffordshire that were due to be opened in the weekend. In many places, local lawyers are saying that they’ll boycott any planned weekend courts.
In response, the Ministry of Justice has highlighted that many courts already open on Saturday mornings for remand hearings and that the pilots are only scheduled to last six months before being evaluated.
A spokesman said, ““We are working with local areas to test whether a more flexible criminal justice system is able to better respond to the needs of the public, including victims and witnesses… We are currently working to finalise which areas will take part in the pilots and which models will be implemented, though we are expecting that extended Saturday and Sunday courts will only make up a very small proportion of the overall number of pilots.”