It’s no secret that the legal courts have been hard hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. Courts shut down for a period of time and are now working on a reduced capacity basis to try and reduce the backlog they now has as a result.
In order to decrease waiting times and brace itself for ‘greater pressure’ in the coming months, the government released a recovery plan which has announced that civil courts will continue with extended operating times until the end of the financial year.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCT) said:
‘A civil working group, chaired by a designated civil judge, has reviewed options for temporary extensions of operating hours. It found that extended operating hours in the evening or at the weekend might be suitable for small claims and fast track hearings and recommended that designated civil judges should have the option to implement extended Covid operating hours where they deem the local situation requires it.’
There are no current plans to introduce extended operating hours in family courts but this ‘will be kept under review’, as July 2020 saw the highest levels of judicial sittings in a single month, and pre-Covid numbers are now returning.
Despite a vaccine now being rolled out, it is expected that more people will be made redundant over the coming months as a result of the Covid effect, and employment tribunals are now labelled a ‘key challenge’. As the HMCTS continued:
‘There is already a significant volume of cases waiting to be listed so our focus now is on ensuring we process the current caseload as quickly as possible so we can manage the anticipated increase in demand effectively.’
What About Crown Court?
Over the last month or so, HMCTS has been piloting different operating hours in seven crown court areas as part of the recovery plan, with the intentions of running a consultation on extending this soon.
However, at his annual press conference, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon said:
‘What extended operating hours is looking at is to run essentially two courts in one courtroom in one day that lasts longer. So, in the Crown Court... two trials in the same day are heard in the same court, so one judge with one set of lawyers starts a trial at 9.30am in the morning and finishes at lunchtime, effectively, after four hours. The court is then cleaned and then the second trial starts after lunch for four hours...
'I recognise that there are some who are not keen on it, in the end, it will be a matter for the lord chancellor to decide whether that is extended or continued, but it is something in the context of recovery and dealing with the problems of delay that we were speaking about earlier that at least needs careful consideration.’
Are Courts Open on Saturday?
Court hours will differ depending on the level of the tribunal system you are in. As Lord Burnett continued:
‘Now, magistrates’ courts have always sat on Saturdays in some parts of the country so, again, that is something which is contributing towards recovery. In the civil courts there are some plans to have short additional hearings at the end of the day, essentially half-day hearings, to deal with small cases, particularly involving litigants in person. All of this is in the context, as I say, of trying to recover backlogs. Nothing like this will ever please everybody, but it does seem to me that it has got to be looked at with care.’
What Does This Mean for You?
Although some work needs to be done to streamline the process, extended hours means more cases are being heard and the backlog is now being reduced. That means, if you are currently waiting for your day in court, the wait will now hopefully be shorter than it was and your quest for justice will soon conclude.
Here at Howells Solicitors, throughout 2020 we have made a lot of changes to adapt to a new way of working, with most of the solicitors across our six offices available from 8:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday. However, we have a large supporting team and aim to get back to messages left out of opening times in a timely manner.
So, if you have a legal question, are wondering about court opening hours, or would like to discuss your case, get in touch today.