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Editorial: Heatwaves and Court Facilities - Aidan Ellis, Temple Garden Chambers

25/08/18. At the start of July, an article in the Economist discussed the obvious difficulties arising from wearing wigs and gowns in Court during a heatwave. As the heatwave intensified over July and the start of August, the article appeared prescient, though not perhaps for the reasons the author intended. In many civil cases, of course, the problem is not really about wigs and gowns. In practice, in personal injury litigation, the number of occasions on which wigs and gowns are worn is continuing to fall even in multi-track cases. I wonder whether new pupils and tenants feel the same obligation to buy their own robes immediately as I did when starting out thirteen years ago.

Nevertheless, although personal injury lawyers are rarely over-heated by their own court dress, the unusual heat did illustrate broader issues about county court facilities. In the newer buildings, there is often modern air-conditioning throughout. In others, the air-conditioning may not cover the whole building, meaning that while the court rooms themselves were generally cool, on occasions the waiting rooms became unpleasantly hot and certain conferences rooms bordered on the unusable. On at least one occasion, I waited for several hours on a staircase, because it was the coolest part of the building. This is not simply a spoilt lawyer grumbling. Court staff, particularly ushers, have to work in the same conditions in waiting rooms. Litigants, already in an unfamiliar and stressful environment, may not give of their best in such conditions. Moreover, there are other ongoing concerns about the facilities offered ranging from the uneven availability of drinks to the lack of private conference rooms.

The effect of various listing arrangements seems to be that certain courts become particularly busy on particular days, when block listing is carried out. For instance, many will be familiar with the floating list at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court. This may well be beneficial in terms of listing efficiency, but it also has the side-effect of intensifying the pressure on conference rooms and waiting areas in the affected Courts. If these arrangements are to be a permanent feature, it would surely be sensible to give thought to the facilities (conference rooms, seats, toilets, drinks, and air-conditioning) necessary to accommodate the increased number of litigants in the court on such occasions.

Aidan Ellis
Temple Garden Chambers

Image: public domain