The Bar Council has reacted furiously to South Swindon MP Robert Buckland's claim that there is a lot of support for extending court hours to deal with the coronavirus backlog.

The Lord Chancellor went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about possible late-night and early-morning court sessions as well as ad hoc ‘Blackstone courts’ being set up in empty buildings to address the crisis.

The government is pursuing both options as it seeks to boost court capacity to hear more cases in the wake of the pandemic shutdown.

“There is a lot of support for this from not just the judiciary but from the professions as well and indeed everybody with a deep interest in the criminal justice system”, Mr Buckland claimed.

Bar chair Amanda Pinto QC said the results of a previous pilot of extended opening hours were never published and insisted lawyers would not support the move without clear evidence it would help tackle far greater volumes of work.

She added: “We fully support the moves to increase the number of hearings taking place, both in the courts and remotely, in order to deliver access to justice and reduce the backlog of cases, and appreciate the current complexities involved in listing cases.

“However, given the seriousness of this illness and attendant risks, it is essential that the health and welfare of vulnerable practitioners are properly taken into account by the courts when considering how to deal with cases in which they are instructed to appear.”

She accused the Lord Chancellor of being determined to introduce extended operating hours under the guise of tackling the mounting backlog of case due to the pandemic, but with a view to it being a long-term change.

She said in a message to barristers: “I do not need to remind the Bar that not only was the backlog there long before Covid-19 (and deliberately maintained), but the results of the flexible operating hours pilot were never published."

“And yet, we are seeing an attempt to rush through plans for inconvenient court hours and even weekend court sittings.

“The MoJ asked us to participate in groups supposedly to consider the viability of extending sitting days; but it is already telling the media that this is a fait accompli.

“This doesn’t feel transparent let alone respectful of those who are trying to engage positively to help. Is this what it’s like to be dumped on Twitter rather than face to face?”