Bar Chair calls for rethink on proposal for flexible court times

Andrew Langdon QC, chair of the Bar Council, has called for a rethink on the plan by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service's (HMTCS) to run “flexible operating hours” because this would result in fewer women pursuing their career as barristers and would not lead to more efficiency.

Andrew Langdon wrote: “HMCTS's proposals involve introducing a pattern of court sitting hours that are seriously disruptive to those that have caring responsibilities for children, the elderly and others in need of care. It self-evidently is currently the position that primary carers are overwhelmingly women.

“When surveyed, women at the Bar consistently explain that unpredictability of court sitting hours is a major disincentive to continue in practice once care commitments arise.”

Andrew Langdon noted that the HMCTS says it intends to operate shift hours, involving two, or even three shifts a day dealing with different cases. The early shift would involve an early start, given the pre-court work that is always necessary, and the late shift would result in a much later return home at the end of the day.

Andrew Langdon said: “These proposals are, frankly, disastrous for diversity. Many hundreds of women have explained that they will simply have to abandon their careers because they put the interests of those they care for before the interest of their careers.”

He concluded: “The plans are ill-thought through - not just for the impact on diversity, but on all other court users. Trials will take longer because they are to be spread over shorter shifts. Even if shift sitting were to save money by enabling courts to close, the price in terms of retaining or even entrenching the domination of men in senior legal and judicial positions ought to be unacceptable to us all. It is time to admit that this is a bad idea, and to think again.”

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