A long-awaited pilot of flexible court hours will begin on Monday – and two law centres plan to make their feelings on the controversial initiative clear.
Extended sitting hours are to be tested at London’s Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. Brentford will test 8am-10.30am and 4.30pm-7pm sittings in civil work. Manchester will test 4.30pm-7pm sittings involving civil and family work.
HMCTS says it wants to see if operating courts and tribunals at different times of the day offers more open and accessible justice.
Hammersmith and Fulham, and Ealing law centres, which run the housing court possession duty scheme at Brentford, plan to ‘take a stand’ outside the court, banners in hand.
They said: ‘[Our] clients are mostly on low incomes, and travelling across London at peak times will be impossible for them. Missed hearings will lead to defences that the court never considers, and prevents meeting a duty solicitor, which is often how many client access the service of a law centre, allowing welfare benefits caseworkers and referral partners to work holistically with the client to solve underlying issues.
‘The problems within a large city would be exacerbated elsewhere, in rural areas for those who live up to 40 miles from the nearest court without a regular bus, attending an 8am hearing would prove impossible.’
An independent evaluator has been appointed to assess the pilots and will report back next year.