Lawyers rebel against weekend courts

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Plans by the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to speed up the delivery of justice by enabling courts to sit at weekends have been thrown into disarray after many lawyers have refused to work outside their normal hours, one of them saying “there are more important things in life”.

After what was seen as a successful spate of ‘swift justice’ cases following the summer riots, Clarke announced a series of pilots, saying he wanted courts to hold hearings in evenings and weekends. But defence lawyers were told they would not get any more money for being present at such hearings.

Maintaining that this was unfair, lawyers also reckoned that the scheme would cost the public purse more money because other personnel such as probation officers and police officers would have to work extra hours too and they would, presumably, not do it for free.

When we last covered this story in July, John Turner of Hewitts Solicitors in Bishop Auckland, County Durham said: “At weekends, the bus service round here is abysmal. How will people travel? It would be nice to see my wife and kids occasionally at weekends.”

But ‘Bryn’ from the Kent Peoples Trust, told Publicservice.co.uk: “The courts, like the other parts of the criminal justice system, have to enter the world of 24/7. Keeping a person in custody for the weekend just because there is no lawyer is not fair or reasonable anymore.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “We are working with local areas to test whether a more flexible criminal justice system is able to better respond to the needs of the public, including victims and witnesses. This may include courts sitting outside of traditional hours during the week, sitting at weekends and increasing the use of video technology. This is to ensure we are able to respond to local demand and deliver swift and effective justice.

“We are currently working to finalise which areas will take part in the pilots and which models will be implemented, though we are expecting that extended Saturday and Sunday courts will only make up a very small proportion of the overall number of pilots. Decisions will be taken at a local level following discussions with partner organisations in the criminal justice system and the judiciary. The pilots will operate for a six month period and will be evaluated to inform any future decisions.”

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