Trouble is brewing among lawyers in Liverpool over bizarre proposals to have Sunday sittings in some courts dealing with criminal cases. Solicitors are angry and worried and have every right to be.
This follows the trend that began in the wake of last years’ riots. The government is keen to be seen to acting decisively in relation to criminal justice and these ideas always go down well in the media. But they are both unnecessary and unfair.
They are unnecessary because the courts in Liverpool are not overrun with work. Responding to a huge influx of arrests in the wake of unprecedented riots is one thing. But the day to day work of the courts is something completely different. Over the last few years the government has closed courts in smaller towns to save money – meaning that defendants have to travel miles to attend hearings.
If there is no demand for local justice, then why the sudden enthusiasm for Sunday justice?
Similar plans have failed miserably elsewhere –
Now most people have little sympathy for lawyers but those who do criminal defence work, on legal aid, deserve all the support they can get. They already work long and anti-social hours. They can be called out to a police station in the middle of the night, spend most of the night with a client and then represent the same person at court in the morning. All of this is done at the lowest hourly rates of all. To add insult to injury it appears that prosecuting lawyers will be paid overtime for appearing on a Sunday and/or given time off in lieu. But there will no extra payment for the defence lawyers. Most operate small practices on a shoestring and cannot afford themselves the luxury of time off.
These plans are nothing short of a disgrace. They will not advance criminal justice and the main thinking behind them is to enable politicians to score popularity points with some areas of the press. The quicker they are abandoned the better.