Following an online meeting for Liverpool Law Society’s discussing issues around the return to the workplace in August, several concerns regarding the courts were raised and put to the Law Society. Below is the Law Society’s update from 25 August 2020:
Link here to the recent public comment on extended hours, which reflects exactly the concern raised.
We recently hosted a Q&A event with HMCTS which focused on the impact of COVID-19, the work that has been undertaken within the court service and the work that still needs to be addressed as part of the court recovery plan. All the questions that were answered during the event can be viewed here
- Member safety especially in terms of attending court/tribunals buildings
- Experience of remote hearings, including any concerns regarding a client’s understanding, particularly those considered vulnerable
- Operation of Cloud Video Platform (CVP)
- Backlogs and listing of cases
- Impact on processing times (for example probate and divorce)
- Use of existing court estate
- Nightingale Courts
- Extended operating hours
Proposals to extend operating hours
As part of their recovery plan HMCTS is considering extended operating hours to address the growing backlogs across the different jurisdictions. While the backlog has grown during the coronavirus crisis, there was a backlog already. Prior to Covid-19 there were courts sitting idle while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) restricted judicial sitting hours, and this is part of what led to the backlog building up. Extended hours is something HMCTS has proposed in the past and which they have conducted pilots on. Our position has remained the same in that we do not think they are a workable or cost-effective approach. Extended hours create financial and practical difficulties and pose risks for the parties and professionals. If they are imposed, we have told government that our members must be fully compensated for any and all extra costs they will incur as a result. Before looking at extended hours, the MoJ must ensure that it is making maximum use of normal court hours, with no restrictions on judges sitting while there are courts (real, virtual or Nightingale) available where they could be working.
Office space for family hearings
With regards the use of office space for family hearings; off-site hearings; and use of office equipment to client’s for Court hearings these are areas we have raised with HMCTS (including in the Q&A event) and we are awaiting a response to this.
Inconsistencies in courts
For incompatible use of platforms/hearing providers we continue to hear reports of inconsistencies between courts on how a remote hearing is conducted, but believe this is due to the discretion of individual judges. We have asked for clearer and consistent comms from local courts to address this particular issue which would help court users and the public. These points were also raised in the Q&A event. HMCTS have stated that they are utilising CVP as their preferred platform moving forward. In crime, they are almost at the point where they’ve rolled this out to every single courtroom and it links in with their justice video system particularly in courts, police stations and prisons. They are also rolling CVP to all the county courts, they say the use of this is a key enabler for them as part of their recovery plan and will be used in line with judicial direction. They are working with the judiciary to use this platform as much as they possibly can which should hopefully reduce the current inconsistencies experienced by our members.
On court inconsistencies this is again a concern we raised with Susan Acland Hood in the Q&A event and reiterated the need for much better communications. She stated that listing officers should be working with the judges and practitioners to get trial dates to meet the requirements for all parties wherever they possibly can. One of the things HMCTS has been piloting in some of the magistrates’ courts is where they effectively bulk list the work for a particular solicitors’ firm on a particular day. This is something they can look at going forward as they think about how they can help people to respond. She advised members to keep talking to the listing officers in courts wherever they can particularly concerns regarding last minute switches.
If any Liverpool Law Society members have concerns or issues around this matter, please let us know by emailing email@example.com