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Chris Grayling: reform of the courts and tribunals

Date:28 MAR 2014
Journals Manager + Online Editor

Despite some recent improvements, much of the estate and technology relied upon by HM Courts & Tribunals Service is ageing. The system is currently configured in a way that perpetuates delays and costs as staff time is wasted on manual data entry and paper-based processes and is based on outdated assumptions about how people expect to access services, for example the public no longer expects to have to handwrite forms, visit a courthouse or tribunal in person to lodge a document or pay a fee by cheque.

Very little is available through digital channels and the taxpayer continues to bear the escalating financial costs associated with manual systems. Without modern technology our Judiciary, legal professionals and court and tribunal staff are not able to work as efficiently as they could.

The Treasury has agreed a one-off package of investment averaging up to £75m per annum over the five years from 2015/16 which will be used to deliver more efficient and effective courts and tribunals administration for all users and deliver significant savings.

Technology will be updated and replaced in courts and tribunals across the country, working practices will be speeded up and modernised, and the court and tribunal estate will be significantly refurbished, making better use of buildings, reducing the ongoing cost of maintenance and providing improved services for court and tribunal users, particularly vulnerable victims and witnesses. Justice will continue to be delivered locally, and access to justice maintained.

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

'Our justice system rightly receives national and international acclaim.

However, for the courts and tribunals service to continue to deliver that high quality of justice for the public they require world class infrastructure.

This new investment will help cement our system as one of the best in the world, ensure the sustainability of the system and deliver value for money for hardworking taxpayers. More importantly, it will ensure that the experience of victims and witnesses is as comfortable and pain free as possible, with an efficient service for those who need access to our courts and tribunals.'

This programme of reform, led and implemented by HM Courts & Tribunals Service will deliver:

  • Modern and integrated technology to introduce greater digital working and to speed up processes. The current range of outdated computer systems will be replaced with a single integrated system which would allow electronic case management. This will enable Judiciary, staff and justice agencies to work on one IT system rather than using antiquated, paper based processes.

  • An online self-service system, which will allow legal professionals and other users to complete court and tribunal forms and make payments digitally for court fees or to initiate claims for debt repayment, personal injury or housing disputes, reducing the reliance on manual entry, speeding up processes and reducing delays. There will also be an increased use of videolinks, digital presentation of documentation in court and Wi-Fi for legal practitioners.

  • A widespread modernisation of our estate to make better use of our buildings, to improve facilities and reduce costs - for example by enabling hearings from different jurisdictions to now occur in the same building.

  • More effective use of courtrooms to ensure that all cases that are scheduled to be heard are not delayed when other hearings overrun - meaning that cases progress more quickly, justice is delivered quicker and family disputes don't drag on to the detriment of those involved, especially children.

  • An upgrade of facilities for victims and witnesses, such as their own waiting areas, to make their experience more comfortable, and a refurbishment of advocates' rooms.

  • Modern, accessible and fit for purpose facilities for all who access our services including better access for people with disabilities.

Once more services are made available online, users and the legal profession should only need to attend a court or tribunal when it is absolutely necessary.

We are already taking steps to make better use of technology across the estate, such as a widespread use of video technology across the Criminal Justice System and a fully digital court in Birmingham. This new programme of reform will build on these improvements.

This programme of reform will help to maintain the UK's competitiveness as a centre of legal services, attracting businesses to resolve their disputes here. It will provide the administration of justice with a sustainable, affordable and fit for purpose infrastructure for the future, whilst simultaneously delivering an efficient and high performing Courts and Tribunals Service that meets both the needs and expectations of the public.