Bar Council issues warning over plan for extended court sittings

Langdon: the biggest impact will be on women

Forthcoming plans for courts to start earlier and finish later will disadvantage barristers with children and do not take account of the cab-rank rule, the Bar Council has warned.

The barristers’ body was making a pre-emptive strike on HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) proposals, expected next week, for a pilot scheme for extra sittings to increase the number of cases the courts handle, with the Crown Court sitting until 6pm, civil courts until 7pm, and magistrates until 8.30pm.

Bar Council chairman Andrew Langdon QC said: “These arrangements will make it almost impossible for parents with childcare responsibilities to predict if they can make the school run or to know when they will be able to pick children up from the child-minders. The biggest impact will be on women.”

“Childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately to women, many of whom do not return to the profession after having children. It is hard to see how these plans sit with the government’s commitment to improving diversity in the profession and the judiciary.

“The profession and the judiciary must reflect the communities they serve. We need measures that will help women stay in the profession, rather than make it even more difficult to be a mother and a barrister at the same time.”

According to the Bar Council, HMCTS has said that increasing the number of court sittings will not automatically require barristers to spend more time in court, but the Bar Council argued that there was no mechanism in the plans to prevent a barrister being listed in both or all three sessions on the same day.

“Under the cab-rank rule, barristers must accept any appropriate instructions, but they will not know until a case is listed whether it will be an early start or a late finish, and they cannot withdraw from a case on the grounds that it clashes with childcare arrangements,” it said.

The Bar Council has urged HMCTS to ensure that the impact on parents, and women in particular, is built into the evaluation criteria used to test the success of the pilots.

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