A leading criminal defence solicitor has slammed a decision by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to press ahead with a pilot scheme to open Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Sundays.
The Victoria Law Courts pilot scheme started this week and will run until March 31 next year but Steven Jonas, a partner in city firm Jonas Roy Bloom ,said he will be surprised if it lasts the course.
When the scheme was first mooted Mr Jonas branded it “completely barmy” and preliminary attempts to get the pilot up and running stalled due to difficulties reaching agreements with all the agencies involved.
Despite opposition in the legal world to the scheme the MoJ started Sunday opening last week, though Mr Jonas said he shared the opinion of the President of the Law Society Lucy Scott-Moncrieff that it was “unworkable, unnecessary and impractical”.
He said: “The general mood is one of utter despair and I would be very surprised if it survives that long on the basis that there is just no demand for it. I am sceptical that any of the suggested benefits of the Sunday courts pilot will be realised and I consider this initiative will likely be an expensive way of making the magistrates’ courts less efficient, at a time when they are experiencing decreasing workloads, and all criminal justice agencies are struggling with budgetary cuts.
“In my view it is inappropriate for the courts to sit outside normal business hours and to require solicitors to attend weekend hearings, where there is no emergency. There will be significant additional costs to all agencies, as well as to solicitors’ firms, who may be forced to deploy staff and pay them additional enhanced rates.”
Mr Jonas said the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has said it will not pay any additional amount for own client cases placing an additional financial burden on law firms.
He added: “Broadly speaking for any magistrates’ court matter we are given broadly speaking a fixed fee. It matters not whether hearing is on a weekday, a Saturday or a Sunday – we are paid no more.