28 July 2021

HMCTs Beating Crime plan

A multi-agency plan called “Beating Crime” has been formally launched today. Part of the plan proposes the introduction of “Temporary Operating Arrangements” in the Crown Court. This would appear to be flexible operating hours by another name.

The announcement would appear to sit alongside a statement in HMCTS's annual report that the Lord Chancellor “wants to set a record number of sitting days alongside extending court hours, continuing the Current Crown Court, Nightingales beyond June 2021 and potentially extend further". Extended court operating hours would include evenings and weekends.

Temporary Operating Arrangements (TOA)

PCS was given advanced notice of the announcement, but there is no information available as to what the hours or the frequency would be or how long it is intended that they will last. PCS expressed concern that we had not been consulted on issues surrounding terms and conditions for any TOA. HMCTS has acknowledged that detailed consultation will need to take place with PCS regarding staffing but has been clear that any staff member who took part would have to be a genuine and willing volunteer.

Consultation has previously taken place with us regarding extended operating hours in pilots at Manchester Civil Justice Centre and Brentford County Court. We would expect that if this progresses further, those measures that were agreed with us for our members that remain fit for purpose will be the bare minimum put in place.

PCS understands that there will be no requirement that any Crown Court adopts extended hours. It allows Resident Judges to look at extending non-trial remote hearing work over an extended working day. It is not mandatory, not a national roll-out and is not a targeted rollout. It will also only run for a defined period. It will be a matter for the Resident Judge to determine if they wish to operate extended hours and if they do so, HMCTS will support them. PCS further understands that at the moment the number of Resident Judges who may want to take part is very small.  Both the Law Society and the Bar Council have been vociferous in their opposition to any form of extended operating hours not least because the arrangements tend to have a disproportionate impact on women who still have the greater responsibility for child and dependent care. This has been recognised by HMCTS’s Equality Analysis although HMCTS believe the remote aspect of the working arrangements mitigates some of that disadvantage.

PCS Concerns

PCS is concerned about any proposal that increase the working day. Independent research evidences how working too long has negative impacts on health, work life balance and leads to extremely high stress levels. We believe this runs contrary to HMCTS’s stated aim of promoting staff well-being. PCS is also concerned that those who develop conditions or make errors due to overwork face the prospect of sanctions under the Attendance Management Procedure or Poor Performance or Discipline Policies.

Volunteering for such programmes can help HMCTS to drive through an agenda of change and can undermine the ability of PCS to protect the current terms and conditions of members, and to seek fairness for all in relation to new terms and conditions, as well as potentially enabling a reduction to future staffing levels that are a requirement of the overall reform programme.

Advice to members

These programmes cannot be successful unless there are volunteers. We are unclear as to how members will be approached, but we would advise any member to be extremely cautious about expressing an interest until we have a much clearer position regarding these proposals and are able to advise members further.