To support the courts in recovering from the effects of the pandemic, the Lord Chancellor has decided to endorse new, temporary operating arrangements. This flexible approach allows Resident Judges to sit different hours to accommodate additional court sessions or to use remote sessions for non-jury trial work.
Both these models aim to maximise the use of existing physical estate so that additional sessions can take place, tackling the backlog created by the pandemic. The number of outstanding cases has increased by more than 40% from pre-Covid levels, prompting this unprecedented response.
Covid Operating Hours
The Covid Operating Hours (COH) model piloted in seven Crown Courts last year and allows for two court sessions to run in one courtroom on the same working day. A morning session would run from 9am to 1pm, then an afternoon session would run from 2pm to 6pm.
No individual will be expected to take place in more than one session each day. Any cases that need more than one session will continue into the same shift the following day.
Despite these measures there are some concerns among legal professionals about how the extended opening hours will affect work done before and after trial, as well as the effect on work life balance and those with caring responsibilities.
As well as adjusted hours to accommodate additional sessions, courts will be able to use remote sessions for non-jury trial work such as sentencing and pre-trial preparation hearings.
Remote sessions may be longer than usual to allow for delays due to technology and could take place outside the usual 9am-5pm operating hours. This approach would also aid in reducing travel time and assisting those with caring responsibilities.
By using a remote model for non-jury trial work physical space will become available for jury trials. Which again will help to increase the number of cases each court can address.
These measures are not mandatory across courts and tribunals, instead they are to be implemented at the discretion of the local judiciary. Resident judges can decide whether to use both, either or neither of these models depending on whether they believe it will assist in reducing the number of local caseloads.
Temporary and Timebound
These measures are not permanent, but temporary and timebound. Designed only to provide short-term assistance in recovering from the effects of the pandemic, these measures will come to an end six months after a court decides to implement them.
It is estimated that every ten courtrooms using Covid Operating Hours could help the courts dispose of forty additional jury trials every four weeks, reducing the surplus of outstanding cases caused by the pandemic.
Effect on Interpreters
As some courts will be running temporary extended operating hours, interpreters may be needed at court earlier than usual or to stay there later than usual. We are aware of the effect this may have on travel time and the particular difficulties this may cause for those with caring responsibilities. We want to assure you that we are here to support you however we can during these short-term changes.
Because the morning and evening schedule is not suited to all cases, usual court hours are expected to be running alongside any two session courts. We will ensure you have all the information needed about which type of court session is taking place and update you on any changes that may occur.
We will also continue to offer remote services to assist any court who wishes to use the remote model. We believe that by working together and working flexibly we can all find our way forward and recover from the effects of the pandemic. Please get in touch if you have any specific worries or concerns about these changes.
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