The current shadow of ‘extended hours’ looming over the profession is a clear and (on reading Susan Acland-Hood, CEO of HMCTS’s blog of 9th July 2020) seemingly inevitable measure which the crown courts intend to utilise alongside new/Blackstone courts to deal with the backlogs in the justice system in the current public health crisis. Let’s be clear, these backlogs are not caused by the pandemic. In fact, the backlogs were there already as a result of ongoing under-investment and neglect of the criminal justice system, wholesale, for years. Of course, that is a whole other blog post, for another day.
Today, I want to talk about what ‘extended hours’ will really mean for those of us at the coal face. I have been a solicitor as well as a barrister. I know the exhaustion of being duty solicitor overnight, wiped out by constant interruptions by phone calls from police stations through the night, even on nights when an actual attendance wasn’t needed. (I still ponder the rationale behind the phone calls to inform you that your client would like to speak to you but can’t be brought to the phone because they’re too drunk/violent etc.) I digress. The point is that solicitors can often end up working all day in court, in the office all evening catching up on the work not done all day and then be actively working again overnight on duties.
We at the Bar, as I now am, have similar issues. All day in court. Conferences at the end of the day. The drafting of arguments, skeletons, applications, all to be ready to see our clients at 9.30 and be expected to hit the ground running at 10am in court. For the most part, we are only paid for the court part. The reality though is that all the other work, the unpaid part, has to be done. And that inevitably happens during our evenings, late at night after the children are in bed and worse still, often, over the weekend.
The point is the same and the impact felt whichever side of the profession you are on. We work long stressful hours, motivated by our commitment to our clients, to our cases and to our professional integrity to do the best we can at all times. We regularly run on fumes.
Now, add in the extra dimension of family life. Before you say it, yes, I know there are many men who play their part in helping with childcare and homelife. But the fact is, even in 2020, many more women still carry