Manchester City Council

Cheshire East Council

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Bar chief demands clarity on evaluation of court flexible operating hours pilots

The Chair of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, has demanded clarification of the approach to be taken to evaluating the court flexible operating hours pilots and warned that unless barristers’ concerns are addressed, then they will be “very unhappy about engaging with the experiment”.

Last week Lord Justice Fulford, the Judge in Charge of Reform, sought to demystify the pilots and expressed regret at “the extent of the widely broadcast misunderstanding and ill-informed comments from a range of sources”.

He added: “We must use our assets to the greatest possible (but always sensible) extent, without asking anyone to work longer hours than at present.”

In a letter to the judge in response, Langdon said any misunderstandings and ill-informed comments as existed were “perhaps understandable given that there was no consultation paper setting out the proposals in any detail, and they have been developed in a somewhat piece-meal fashion”.

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He said he had repeatedly pressed for detail of what the evaluation of the pilots would look like and how, precisely, it would be undertaken, but the Bar Council had not been provided with an answer.

The letter also repeated Langdon’s misgivings that the pilots could be distorted by ‘sympathetic listing’ – “in other words not including cases where the parties object” – and this would mean the consequences feared by barristers would not be measured.

Langdon argued that HMCTS’ reforms, which plan courts sitting in shifts, were “an attempt to deal with the fact that the Ministry of Justice is underfunded, and so are the courts”.

He said he was sure that the consequences of sitting in shifts, with the additional unpredictability in sitting hours that that entailed, would put back attempts to make the Bar and therefore the judiciary in due course, more diverse.

“If I am right, these ‘reforms’ caused by insufficient funding by successive governments, should be resisted,” he said.

Langdon said it was hard for the Bar to resist ‘Judge-led reform’ and he acknowledged that Lord Justice Fulford had certain responsibilities in his role.

However, he added that he was sure as Chair of the Bar he had a duty “to ensure that bad reform is exposed as such”.

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