PCS has received a number of concerns from members in relation to both the announcement from the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland of the first 10 venues identified to be “Nightingale Courts” and an extension to normal sitting hours in order to address Covid 19 backlog.
Across the regions a number of arrangements for both weekend and evening court hearings are being proposed and / or introduced with volunteers being sought to staff them. Conversations we are told have already started regarding staff “willingness” to work at a “Nightingale” Court.
Whilst early conversations have started with PCS regarding the recovery plan and the Lord Chancellor’s announcements, no agreement has yet been reached. None of the local arrangements being put in place have been subject to consultation and we are now seeking to develop a process to address this that will include local PCS representatives and Branches. In many circumstances PCS has only found out about them because members have told us.
PCS maintains that there needs to be a nationally negotiated agreement regarding all aspects of the recovery, limited to the lifetime of the recovery, that protects members terms and conditions and ensures that their health, safety and welfare remains paramount. We believe that staffing levels, workload, stress at work and recognition of the integral role that staff have are playing must form part of such an agreement. We will keep all members informed as this work develops.
At present the above does not exist. HMCTS is for example unable to advise PCS as to the resourcing requirements for its proposals. Court hearings require court takers. Court clerks, court associates and legal advisers require extensive training to perform unique roles. There were significant recruitment and retention issues in relation to these roles prior to the pandemic. They remain unaddressed.
HMCTS is unable to give any clarity regarding how you members will be kept safe in ““Nightingale courts” These would appear to be “pop up” courts by another name. PCS has serious concerns about the concept of “pop up” courts because they take court hearings away from buildings specifically designed to hear them where we can ensure our members health and safety is protected.
One hing that is clear is that in terms of backlog the recovery arrangements are intended only to return HMCTS to the same levels of backlog pre Covid. Extended hours and “Nightingale Courts” will effectively be no more than a sticking plaster in a gaping wound caused by years of under resourcing, court closures and a reform programme that is fundamentally unfit for purpose.
PCS Advice to Members
Whilst the negotiations regarding the recovery take place, PCS advises members to exercise caution when asked to volunteer or to express an interest in taking part in these recovery arrangements and to consider the full ramifications of your decision including whether the remuneration offered properly reflects what you are being asked to do in what are still extraordinary circumstances.
We accept that for some the prospect of the overtime being offered in accordance with the Pay and Allowances Manual may appear attractive, however not only are there negative health impacts of working long or longer hours, volunteering before the negotiations with PCS regarding the issues set out above undermines the ability of PCS to potentially secure the safest, sustainable outcome on the most favourable terms we can for members and to ensure that in the longer term we protect the current terms and conditions members have.