Plans to extend court sittings a blow for women at the bar

Posted On: 
24th March 2017

Parent barristers, especially women, will be disadvantaged by HMCTS proposals for Courts to start earlier and finish later, the Bar Council has said adding that the plans do not take account of rules that self-employed barristers must follow when organising their work.

A new pilot scheme will introduce extra sittings at Civil, Crown and Magistrates’ Courts to increase the number of cases they see each day with the Crown Court sitting until 18.00, Civil Courts until 19.00 and Magistrates until 20.30.

Chairman of the Bar 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.”

HMCTS have said that increasing the number of court sittings will not automatically require barristers to spend more time in court, but there is no mechanism in the plans to prevent a barrister being listed in both or all three sessions on the same day, finishing as late as 20.30.

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.

The Bar Council urges 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.