Flexible Operating Hours Pilot
In a reply to a letter by Lord Justice Fulford regarding the Flexible Operating Court Hours pilots, Joe Egan, president of the Law Society, has expressed concern over the controversial scheme.
The President outlines the realities of working as a criminal defence solicitor.
“The financial impacts on hard-pressed solicitors’ firms are likely to be considerable. Fee-earners will still have to undertake other work outside any hearings in the pilot courts, such as duty attendances at the police station and work on other clients’ files. Unlike others working within the court system, with the possible exception of solicitors in the very largest criminal defence firms, they do not have the benefit of being able to work shift patterns.”
He stresses what HMCTS appears to ignore, the fact that work is necessary before and after all court hearings.
“In addition, when a case is listed for hearing, solicitors already work hours on that case that extend outside the normal court sitting hours. A solicitor would normally attend court at 9am for a hearing that starts at 10am, in order to deal with essential preparatory work, including speaking to the client, the prosecution, and any defence witnesses. Similarly there is always work to be done following the hearing: explaining the sentence to the client if necessary and undertaking follow-up paperwork. This means in practice that the proposed court hours are regularly extended by at least an hour at each end of the day, and will therefore extend even further into unsocial hours as a result of these pilots than the sitting times themselves would suggest.”
No Extra Money
Unsurprisingly, there will be no extra money from the Government to subsidise the pilots. Firms will be expected to cover the cost themselves.
“The cost of paying overtime to the fee earners who will be working these additional hours will need to be covered by the firms themselves, given that the LAA has made it clear that there will be no additional payments for solicitors working in the pilot courts.”
This comes at a time when the profession is still awaiting a decision on whether there is to be a further 8.75% cut in police station and Magistrates fees, as well as dramatic cuts to Crown Court and Advocate fees.
Hopefully the intention of the flexible operating hours pilot is genuine, and at some point HMCTS will give proper weight to the concerns of practitioners.
The full letter can be found here: