Evening court sittings ‘will force women out of law’

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May 30, 2017
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Sessions finishing at 6pm, 7pm or 8.30pm would make life impossible for those trying to balance work with childcare, barristers’ representatives said

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A petition calling for ministers to ditch plans for evening court sittings has gathered 3,200 signatures, The Times reports.  

Morwenna Macro, a senior-junior commercial and chancery barrister at Five Paper chambers in the Temple, organised the online petition against what she called “unworkable, unnecessary and unfair” plans by HM Courts & Tribunal Service to extend court opening ours, which it says would speed the progress of cases. “All those working in the courts deserved to have a good work-life balance and the ability to see their children,” she said.

The longer hours “should not be forced upon lawyers, judges and court staff,” she said. “This is a regressive step and a barrier to greater diversity in the profession and on the bench and in particular will be a further obstacle to the retention of women.”

The Association of Women Barristers said that women were less likely to be able to work extended hours and that in turn “will lead to fewer women working as lawyers in criminal courts. Rather than introduce night courts . . . we ask the government to reopen the courts it has closed, so as to deal with the backlog”.

Senior Bar figures agreed. Andrew Langdon, QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, said: “These proposals 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 childminders.”

Under the plan, to be piloted soon in six court centres, crown courts would start sitting at 9am, with a second shift from 2pm until 6pm, instead of finishing at 4pm. Civil courts will sit until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8.30pm.

A spokesman for the Courts Service said: “We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people.”

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