Controversy over COVID Operating Hours roll-out
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Lady Justice close up (Hermann Traub_Pixabay)
HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has denied rumours that the roll-out of COVID Operating Hours in the Crown Courts has been suspended.
A story in the Times last week stated that the roll-out, intended to deal with the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic, has been ‘kicked … into the long grass’. Speaking to Legal Action on 18 February 2021, a spokesperson for HMCTS said this was incorrect and ‘nothing has been ruled out yet’.
The COVID Operating Hours pilots ran last year in seven Crown Courts. The courts opened at 9 am instead of the usual time of 10 am and sat until 6 pm (two hours longer than normal). Practitioner groups have opposed the extended hours. Responding earlier this year to proposals to extend the scheme, The Law Society argued that the extra costs of running the pilots would not offer ‘value for money for the taxpayer or … achieve the objective of clearing the backlog’.
The Flexible Operating Hours pilots for civil courts in Manchester and Brentford, West London, were completed in March last year. The six-month pilots commenced in September 2019. Commenting on the Brentford pilot as it began, local Law Centre director and soon-to-be LAG CEO Sue James said: ‘At a time when there’s a chronic shortage of judges to hear cases and a severe reduction in court staff in the normal court hours, this … just seems ludicrous.’ An evaluation of the Brentford and Manchester pilots is expected to be published soon.

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