Two personal injury silks at Exchange Chambers have added their voices to a chorus of discontent over late night courts with one of them accusing the Ministry of Justice of “fiddling while Rome burns”.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service had been planning to test late night courts this month in an effort to understand how to make the system more flexible for all users. The six-month pilot scheme, currently on hold pending the General Election, will rely on the assistance of lawyers who have already been subject to public funding cuts and a flood of civil justice reforms in recent weeks.
However, the silks from Exchange Chambers have said that it is unlikely to succeed.
“It is pure hypocrisy to run this pilot scheme on the basis of improving access to justice for working people,” said Will Waldron QC (pictured).
“Excessive court fees and withdrawal of public funding across the board – not court opening hours – are compromising access to justice. The Ministry of Justice is fiddling while Rome burns. The court system is on its knees and gimmicks like this won’t fix it.”
His colleague Amanda Yip QC said that she found the idea troubling. She explained that she was concerned that the scheme, if introduced on a permanent basis, would drive many barristers away form the Bar and would also have a major impact on diversity within the profession.
“The reality is that more women than men will be affected. It will make childcare impossible – financially, practically and emotionally,” she said.
“Junior barristers will feel they have to work extended court hours if asked to do so, even at the risk of never seeing their children.
“When my children were younger, balancing a career at the Bar with being a parent was difficult, but manageable. I’d often rush home at the end of the day, put my children to bed and then carry on working during the evening, preparing the next day’s cases. If barristers are still at court until late evening, work life balance will become impossible.”
She added that she would have probably left the Bar had the idea been implemented when she had a young family.
The Law Society has said that any proposal to extend court opening times would require robust evaluation to assess the impact, while the Bar Council has also warned that extended hours would be “almost impossible” for parents with childcare responsibilities.