The Government has put the controversial “flexible court hours” scheme on hold after it was due to be rolled out across family law jurisdictions over the next six weeks.
The plans, which are heavily opposed by the legal sector, will see the crown court sit until 6pm, civil courts until 7pm, and magistrates until 8.30pm.
Robert Bourns, the Law Society President, said solicitors would be expected to attend court during unsocial hours for no uplift in pay, as fees for criminal legal aid work have not increased for more than 20 years.
The goodwill and morale of the criminal defence community has severely diminished following an 8.75 per cent cut in fees in 2014 with the prospect of further cuts to come, he added.
Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, said the start of these pilots will be delayed until the department is satisfied that it had a robust, independent evaluation system in place.
She said the consultation process will be re-opened in order to recruit an independent organisation to lead the evaluation work.
“Many of the concerns raised about flexible operating hours point to issues in the way cases are currently scheduled and listed. Unpredictability features in the system now, and makes it difficult for many to contemplate anything that increases the window in which cases might take place,” she said.
“Of course, listing is a judicial function and judges must always have the final say. They must balance many things in making their decisions, and there will always be a case for ‘warned lists’ while so many trials do not go ahead as planned. But, as part of our reform programme, we know we need to improve the way we do the work that underpins and informs those judicial decisions. And we think there’s scope to make a lot of difference.”