The MoJ seem determined to press ahead with their "Flexible Operating Hours" pilot, despite no disclosed business case or enthusiasm from those required to participate. Defence lawyers remain excluded from the National Steering Group.
Here in London, the pilot at Blackfriars has started, and "partner agencies" affected were invited to send back information on the leadtimes required for the FOH pilot in London. Data is being collated, and agencies were specifically asked if they wish to add anything "regarding systems, technology or other leadtimes'
Using the template provided, and based on the overwhelming feedback we have had from members opposing the proposals, we have responded as follows:
Details of change/Timetable
No representative body for defence practitioners can compel its members in the way that a Government agency may be able to. Defence firms who have employees will have to redraft or amend contracts with their staff to require them to attend outside of current contractual hours. As each firm will have different employment contracts, it is impossible to respond on behalf of individual firms as to whether or how this may be achievable.
Self-employed solicitor advocates may be able to choose whether to accept instructions to attend "out-of-hours" or not, although they are likely to be put under pressure to agree. As defence lawyers were not consulted in advance of the pilot, there is no data as to the likely "take-up" but our informal soundings have shown practical difficulties for those with child care commitments, and overwhelming opposition from all.
We would estimate the required time to fundamentally change working practices in the way proposed would be measured in years, and at the very least should not commence until there has been proper research into the contractual changes required and appropriate guidance given.
We would wish to challenge any proposal where there is no proposed increase in rates of payment for work carried out outside of normal office hours. Increased costs to firms are inevitable, expanding hours of work to deal with cases is not more efficient from a Lawyers viewpoint and indeed it is hard to see that any stakeholder would be either more efficient or benefit in relation to costs of services .
We still believe this proposal is ill-judged and un-necessary, and wish our continued opposition to the scheme currently being forced upon us to be noted. There appears to be no independent proposal for the effective evaluation of the pilot.