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CLSA: Extending court hours discriminates against parent lawyers

‘Government agencies must recognise fundamental importance of defence practitioners’

3 April 2017

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A new pilot scheme that will extend opening hours in selected courts is ‘discriminatory’ against parent criminal lawyers, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association has warned, adding that the government has failed to consider how legal representation will be made available in their absence.

HM Courts & Tribunal Service plans to introduce extra sittings at civil, crown, and magistrates’ courts to increase the number of cases heard each day as part of the Ministry of Justice’s programme to transform the justice system.

In a statement published today, the CLSA has expressed its fears over the practicalities of the proposals, saying the potential benefit of the pilot was ‘unclear’ while the possible rise in cost to the tax payer was ‘concerning’.

‘The prison service is currently in crisis and will be faced with dealing with prisoners having to be conveyed and booked into the prisons of an evening. The probation service will need to make officers available at extra cost as will HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service, mental health services, and social services. Access to justice will be restricted as the “project” has seemingly failed to consider how legal representation will be made available.’

The CLSA, which said it was ‘staggering’ that defence practitioners were absent from the project’s national steering group, added that it would seek to obtain sight of the impact assessments conducted by the group.

‘In particular we would like to know how criminal firms are expected to make arrangements for their employees to cover cases outside normal working hours? It is discriminatory to many who have childcare commitments whether male or female. How are firm owners expected to remunerate staff and deal with employment issues such as working time directives?’

In light of further proposed cuts to criminal practitioners, the CLSA said it was ‘inconceivable’ to think that defence lawyers will make themselves available without there being any consideration as to how firms will facilitate this.

‘If legal representation isn’t made available during the extended hours then this restricts access to justice which is a situation that could never be tolerated and achieves the direct opposite to the stated aim. It is about time that government agencies recognised the fundamental importance of defence practitioners without whom the system would grind to an expensive halt.’

Last week the Bar Council said the proposed arrangements would make it ‘almost impossible’ for parents with childcare commitments. Moreover, with childcare responsibilities still falling ‘disproportionately to women’, the Bar Council questioned the government’s commitment to improving diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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