The Bar Council and Family Law Bar Association respond to the Government’s and HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s decision on piloting Flexible Operating Hours

Posted On: 
16th November 2018

The proposals for the criminal courts would have created a serious threat to our recruitment and retention of a diverse profession, and to the wellbeing of criminal barristers, says Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar,

Welcoming the Government’s decision not to go ahead with so-called flexible operating hours pilots in the criminal courts, Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “The proposals for the criminal courts would have created a serious threat to our recruitment and retention of a diverse profession, and to the wellbeing of criminal barristers.  There was also a widespread view that the proposals could not work, and would lead to more delays and stress for everyone involved in cases going through our already overstretched criminal courts.

“The Bar Council led the Bar’s opposition to these proposals from the outset.  This decision is the culmination of our firm and principled engagement with the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).  It has taken considerable time and effort to reach this point, but we are pleased that those efforts have not been wasted, and that Ministers have listened.”

Noting that pilots will still go ahead in two civil courts (Manchester and Brentford) and in one family court (Manchester), Andrew Walker QC said: “While the type of work involved in the family and civil court pilots is much more limited than that proposed in the criminal courts, we remain very concerned about the implications of early starts and late finishes, and there are many questions still to be answered about the practicality of these revised proposals.  Family barristers, in particular, are already working under enormous strain, as are our family courts; and it would be unacceptable and irresponsible to place even greater burdens on them.

“We note that participation in the pilots will be voluntary, that no one will be required to work outside normal court hours, and that the courts involved will seek to give listing certainty.  However, we cannot ignore the wider implications if the pilots lead to more permanent arrangements, even if these are limited and restricted to only a few courts (as the Prospectus anticipates).

“For these reasons, we shall be pursuing our concerns about the types of case that are suitable even for the pilots, and will be monitoring the pilots very carefully indeed.  We will also continue to press for rigorous, independent evaluation which captures all of the impacts on everyone involved, as we have already been doing through our two existing barrister representatives on the evaluation advisory group, Kate Brunner QC and Fiona Jackson.”

Frances Judd QC, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, said: “We intend to work closely with the Bar Council and to monitor the pilots carefully, in particular as to the effects upon family barristers who are already working to capacity, and often have to travel considerable distances to court.  We are assured that there will be an independent evaluation, to which we will be invited to contribute.”