The government has defended its decision to resurrect extended court operating hours despite acknowledging that the controversial scheme could discriminate against lawyers with caring responsibilites.
Judges will be given the option to open courtrooms for longer under new ‘Temporary Operating Arrangements’ (TOA) announced yesterday.
In an accompanying Public Sector Equality Duty Statement, HM Courts & Tribunals Service acknowledged that there was some evidence to suggest TOA would have a ‘greater impact’ on people with caring responsibilities, citing Office for National Statistics analysis that shows those with caring responsibilities are more likely to be women.
The statement includes an extract from evidence submitted to the Criminal Bar Association by a working mother involved in the Covid Operating Hours pilot.
She said: ‘My day does not start any later due to a late start of trial. I have two relatively young children (9 and 11) and I was getting home between 7.20-8pm depending on the trains and tube. Seeing my children so late was very disrupting to them as it was bedtime when I got back. The trial itself had no difficulties with witnesses. However, I would not wish to conduct a trial like this again… School wrap-around care is only until 6pm and starts at 7.30am. I have to pay extra for this wrap-around care and even on these times I could not get to court in time for a 9am start or obviously get home for a 6pm pick up if court is finishing at 6pm. Who do I get to cover a start time so early or a finish so late?’
However, HMCTS has assessed that TOA is a ‘proportionate response given the overriding need for local courts to decide how best to respond the pandemic’. Safeguards include the decision to make it a time-limited scheme.
Possible indirect discrimination impacts ‘should be set against the benefits (for victims, witnesses and defendants) of increased capacity, potentially getting cases to court quicker than might otherwise be possible’, the PSED statement says.
The revived scheme includes a remote model, which HMCTS believes will mitigate against negative impacts for people with caring responsibilities.