Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Keeping the ‘Transformation: Courts and Tribunals 2022’ programme under review

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In June 2018, I noted here the critical report from the National Audit Office on the Transformation: Courts and Tribunals Programme 2022.

The NAO report was reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee , which took evidence from the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service. It published a pretty brutal report which listed a number of concerns about the programme and set out a number of recommendations on the way forward.

The PAC found, in summary:

  1. It had little confidence that HMCTS can successfully deliver this hugely ambitious programme to bring the court system into the modern age.
  2. It found that HMCTS had failed to articulate clearly what the transformed justice system would look like, which limits stakeholders’ ability to plan for, and influence the changes.
  3. Despite revising the timescale, it thought that HMCTS’s imperative to deliver at such a fast pace risked not allowing time for meaningful consultation or evaluation and could lead to unintended consequences.
  4. The Committee thought HMCTS had not adequately considered how the reforms will impact access to, and the fairness of, the justice system for the people using it, many of whom are vulnerable.
  5. It found that, one third of the way through the programme, the Ministry of Justice still did not understand the financial implications of its planned changes on the wider justice system.
  6. The Committee remained concerned that the Ministry of Justice was taking on significant amount of change, without a clear sense of its priorities, at a time when it is facing severe financial and demand pressures.

In relation to findings 1, 2 and 4 above, the Committee wanted HMCTS to start producing update reported on a regular 6 month basis, starting in January 2019.

In relation to finding 3, it wanted, by November 2018, HMCTS to publish plans on how and when it will engage with stakeholders and be clear about how it will act on the feedback received and adjust plans if necessary.

In relation to findings 5 and 6 it recommended regular updates from the Ministry of Justice, again starting in January 2019.

The Government has just announced that it has agreed to all the PACs recommendations.

As I said in my original comment on the report from the National Audit Office, my personal view is that it is essential that the justice system is modernised. Doing nothing is not an option. While stern criticism may well help to ensure that the Director of the reform programme keeps her eye on the ball, I also think that it is important to support those working on the reform programme. Such harsh criticism could be extremely undermining of staff confidence and could paradoxically increase the chances of some of the negative outcomes listed by the Committee coming to fruition.

I will keep readers of the blog posted as and when new material is published.

The NAO report is at https://www.nao.org.uk/report/early-progress-in-transforming-courts-and-tribunals/

The PAC report is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/976/97602.htm

The Government’s response is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/746797/CCS001_CCS1018676736-001_Treasury_Minutes_Gov_Resp_43-58_Cm9702_Web_Accessible.pdf

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Transformation: Court and Tribunals 2022 – progress reports

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I have observed before that it is quite hard for someone outside HM Court and Tribunal Service to keep up to date with progress with the Transforming our Justice System, now Transformation Courts and Tribunals 2022, reform programme.

For some time there has been an occasional blog, setting out information about a number of initiatives.

In recent months, a monthly Bulletin (also called an electronic Newsletter) has been launched, the latest of which, published on 1 Oct  2018 contains links to a detailed report Reform Update, Autun 2018, setting out the story so far.

The transformation programme is a very substantial one – it consists of some 50 projects. Not all of them have yet started and very few have as yet been completed. Many ideas are, quite rightly, being tested and evaluated before being nationally rolled out.

The easiest way to get an overview of the projects and their progress is to look at the summary table of the report (pp 22-26).

I will be adding further detail on these projects, dividing the information into broad subject headings.

The monthly bulletin can be accessed by clicking on the link under the heading Newsletter at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-reform-programme.

The Reform Update report can be seen at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

The Inside HMCTS blog can be accessed at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work of the Law Commission: Justice Committee inquiry 2018

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In the summer 2018, the House of Commons Justice Committee announced that it would start an inquiry into the work of the Law Commission. To date it has received oral and written evidence from the Law Commission.

The evidence shows that over the last 8 years, the core funding for the work of the Commission has been cut by over 50%.

To make up the short-fall, the Commission has been undertaking a number of projects funded by Government Departments, which fall outside the programme of Law Reform which the Commission had itself determined and agreed with the Government.

In oral evidence, the then Chair, Sir David Bean made the point that, while funded projects were important, it could mean that other important projects would have to be dropped or postponed, because they did not fit the political priorities of the day.

The final outcome of the inquiry is currently awaited.

The written and oral evidence is available at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/work-of-the-law-commission-17-19/publications/

Written by lwtmp

September 25, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Chapter 4

Tagged with ,

Improving Immigration and Asylum procedures

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Immigration and asylum is always controversial. People have strong view, both for and against current immigration policy and practice. But these policies are underpinned by a legislative framework (albeit a very complex one) and if we believe, as I do, that upholding the rule is an important societal value, then it is important that those impacted by our law on immigration and asylum should be able to rely on decisions that are made in accordance with the law, and that there should be rights of appeal where something has gone wrong.

For a number of years, however, the immigration and asylum appeals process has been under close government scrutiny. In the early part of the 21st century, the concern was with the huge numbers of immigration cases being taken on judicial review to the High Court. More recently, most of these cases were taken away from the High Court and transferred to the Immigration and Asylum chambers of the First Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.

However, numbers remained high. In this context, there were concerns that too many cases brought were unmerited, being used as a delaying tactic to postpone deportation; and that some of those providing advice and assistance in immigration cases were not providing a properly professional service.

As part of its major series of reports on the justice system, written to assist the Transformation of our Justice System programme led by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, JUSTICE, the all-party Human Rights group, has just published a report Immigration and Asylum Appeals – a Fresh Look. (I declare an interest, I was a member of the working party, chaired by Sir Ross Cranston, that wrote the report.)

In it they try to take a dispassionate look at the problems and challenges which face the immigration and asylum appeals procedure. Their approach is to look at each of the steps through which a case may go in order to  identify difficulties and recommend practical change.

The report is quite detailed. In outline, it argues:

Home Office refusal decisions The Working Party’s view is  that better Home Office decision-making – with more emphasis on getting it right first time – is the key to delivering a better appellate system;

The application process for immigration and asylum appeals. Here the working party argues that more detailed attention needs to be paid to the move to online processes. At the same time the working party addresses the issue of unsupervised, unqualified and poor quality representatives purporting to provide advice and assistance to appellants;

Appeals against adverse decisions of the Home Office on immigration and asylum matters in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This examines the important role of tribunal case workers in moving cases forward. It also wants to see stronger judicial case management to improve tribunal efficiency.

Hearings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This section of the report focusses in particular on video-conferencing and video-hearings, recognising the potential advantages of these models. At the same time, the report stresses the fundamental principles that should govern any expansion in their use and where they will not be appropriate.

Appeals to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), Judicial Reviewapplications and appeals to the Court of Appeal. This part of the report focusses on the multiple stages that may be gone through when seeking permission to appeal. The working party considered the tension between the important right of review in this jurisdiction and the pressure on the system that flows from too many appellate stages. While not recommending removing rights of appeal, the report outlines ways to streamline this process.

A key theme to emerge from the report is that there needs to be much better communication between the parties.The Working Party considers how this might be facilitated both at the pre-hearing stage and on a continuing informal basis.

Detailed recommendations are made on ways to improve the management of cases and to reduce the number of unnecessary appeals – to the benefit of all participants in the system and the administration of justice more generally.

The above note has been adapted from the report which is available at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-working-party-report-on-immigration-and-asylum-appeals/

 

 

 

Diversity in the Judiciary: slow progress

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The judicial diversity statistics were published on 12 July 2018. They are based in information as at 1 April 2018.  The statistics show there has been further, albeit slow, progress in the appointment of women in judicial posts; there has been some progress, though less than for women, in the appointment of those from Black and Ethnic Minorities groups as judges. that:

  • 29% of court judges and 46% of tribunal judges were female. 50% of non-legal members of tribunals were female.
  • Around half of court judges aged under 50 are female.  Females outnumber males among tribunal judges at all age groups under 60.
  • 24% of Judges in the Court of Appeal and in the High Court were female.
  • 41% of Upper Tribunal Judges were female.
  • Since 2014 there has been a 5-percentage point increase in female representation among court judges.
  • 8% of judges identified as BAME (7% of court and 11% of tribunal judges); non-legal tribunal members 17%
  • BAME representation among court judges aged 40 or over (98% of judges) was only slightly below that of the working age general population in each age band, while BAME representation among tribunal judges was higher than that of the working age general population at all age bands from 40 and over. Non-legal members have considerably higher BAME representation than that of the working age general population at all age groups.
  • A third of court judges and two thirds of tribunal judges are from non-barrister backgrounds.
  • More than half of magistrates were female (55%)
  • 12% of magistrates declared themselves as BAME.
  • There were very few magistrates aged under 40 (4%) compared with 55% of magistrates who were aged over 60.

On 27 June 2018 (outside the period used for the report) the appointment of three Lady Justices and four Lord Justices of Appeal were announced. On 9 July 2018 the appointment of five High Court Judges were announced, three of which were male and two of which were female. These will be reflected in the statistics for 2019.

The full report is available at https://www.judiciary.uk/about-the-judiciary/who-are-the-judiciary/diversity/judicial-diversity-statistics-2018/

There are two major challenges relating to judicial appointments which have been aired recently.

First, there are concerns at the significant reduction in the numbers of Lay Justices who sit in Magistrates’ Court.

Second, there are concerns about unfilled appointments to the High Court, attributed to recent reductions in the pay and benefits associated with these appointments. This is an issue currently under review by the Senior Salaries Review Body. The outcome of the consultation is currently awaited. It was the subject of a recent speech given by the Lord Chief Justice.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/major-review-of-the-judicial-salary-structure

The Lord Chief Justice’s speech is at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/20180704-lcj-speech-mansion-house-speech.pdf

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 12, 2018 at 10:42 am

Preventing digital exclusion

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A great deal of effort is currently being put into finding ways of using IT to deliver legal services, whether in the form of: providing legal advice and assistance to those who need it;  conducting various types of legal activity/process on-line; dealing with disputes online.

In general, the modernisation of the practice and procedure of the law through IT is to be welcomed. At the same time, there are concerns that some of the most vulnerable in society may be excluded from this brave new world. They may not have easy access to computers, or the ability to use them. In rightly encouraging digital solutions, at the same time policy makers need to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

In a recent policy paper, the human Rights group JUSTICE has drawn attention to the importance of ensuring that people are not excluded from the rapidly developing digital legal world.

In their report Preventing digital exclusion from online justice (published in June 2018), they analysed the potential issues that those engaged in the reform of legal procedures need to bear in mind.

The report makes a number of recommendations, directed primarily at HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They include:

  • Greater investment in “trusted faces” in “trusted places” i.e. services already providing digital support and internet access.
  • Considering the specific challenges of providing support to the digitally excluded, especially hard to reach cohorts – including testing Assisted Digital services in regions where the internet may be difficult to access. (Assisted Digital envisages a flexible mix of telephone, webchat, face-to-face, and paper-based support services. HMCTS is commissioning a programme of work to evaluate what types of support and in what combinations works best.)
  • Paying specific attention to highly digitally excluded groups, like homeless people and detainees.
  • Designing online justice services with an independent “look and feel” to reflect the constitutional independence of the courts.
  • Maximising the benefits of the “multi-channel” approach – helping people move with ease between digital access, phone assistance, face-to-face assistance, and paper.
  • Ensuring online justice services cater for the most affordable and ubiquitous mode of digital interaction: mobile technology.
  • Conducting end-to-end pilots of online justice services, learning from hearing and enforcement stages what is required at earlier stages.
  • Researching how people behave in an online environment and choices between Assisted Digital channels.
  • Collecting and making available the widest range of data possible to support research by external experts.

Internationally, there is a great deal of experiment going on with different forms of communicating advice and assistance. There are being kept under review by Professor Roger Smith who, with funding from the Legal Education Foundation, provides – among other things – an annual review of development in the use of IT to increase access to justice. He also writes a blog which looks in mor detail at specific initiatives relating to trying to improve access to justice – not just through the use of new technologies but also new ways of funding them such as crowd funding.

For those interested in how the application of new technologies might change ways in which the delivery of legal services are undertaken, this is an outstanding resource – full of links to detailed initiatives. At the same time, the need for realism in potential impacts is also stressed. It is important not always to believe the hype surrounding new applications.

The JUSTICE report is at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-report-on-preventing-digital-exclusion/.

The Annual Reviews of digital delivery of legal services can be found at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/digital/digital-report.

Roger Smith’s blog on developments in Law, technology and Access to Justice is at https://law-tech-a2j.org/publications/

Also relevant is the report, published in July 2018, from the Centre for Justice Innovation, which also looks at public attitudes towards the greater use of IT in the justice system.

See http://justiceinnovation.org/portfolio/just-technology-emergent-technologies-justice-system-public-thinks/

 

 

 

Transforming the Justice system – views from the National Audit Office

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In this blog, I have tried to keep readers abreast of developments with the major Transformation of the Justice system programme. I have observed that this is not always easy and depends on keeping an eye out for press releases, blogs and now the new monthly e-bulletin issued by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

In May 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its first appraisal of how the programme is going.

Obviously the NAO is supportive of the aims of the programme, which it summarises as follows:

In 2016, HMCTS set up a portfolio of change programmes that will introduce

new technology and working practices to modernise and upgrade the justice system.

By March 2023, HMCTS expects to employ 5,000 fewer staff, reduce the number of
cases held in physical courtrooms by 2.4 million cases per year and reduce annual
spending by £265 million. Savings will come from lower administrative and judicial staff costs, fewer physical hearings and running a smaller estate. As well as making savings HMCTS expects the reformed system to work better for all those involved, use court time more proportionately, and make processes more accessible to users.

The NAO report helpfully reminds readers of the scale and scope of the overall programme:

The HMCTS change portfolio consists of several related programmes, which in turn
are made up of many individual projects. The major programmes are:
• The HMCTS Reform Programme which is modernising processes and systems
to reduce demand on courts by moving activity out of courtrooms. For example,
it will introduce online services and digital case files and expand the use of video
technology in hearings.
• The Common Platform Programme which is developing shared processes
and a digital criminal justice case management system to share information
between HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. It is jointly
managed by these organisations.
• The Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) which
is upgrading systems in HMCTS’s National Compliance and Enforcement Service,
used to enforce court orders such as penalties and compensation.
As part of these programmes, HMCTS is also reducing and modernising the
court and tribunal estate and creating cross-jurisdictional hearing centres and national ‘customer service centres’. These will centralise case management and administration and provide support to the public, judges and lawyers on civil and criminal matters.
The NAO makes some rather obvious observations:

1 The scope of the programme is challenging

2 The timetable has been expanded

3 The scope of some projects has been reduced

4 Progress has been slower than expected

5 Costs have risen and likely benefits decreased

6 There remain funding gaps for the later stages.

The NAO notes that many of these points have been taken on board within HMCTS. Nonetheless, the NAO argues that more should be done to demonstrate in detail how the reformed system will work. It states that it is important to sustain the committment of all those involved in the design and delivery of the new service. It implicitly criticises the Ministry of Justice for its failure to reintroduce the legislation that will be needed to ensure that aspects of the reform programme can be implemented. The NAO warns that the scale and spped of change may result in changes having unexpected consequences. And as much of the anticipated savings arise from reductions in staff, this could actually lead to an inability to deliver the service.

The public response of HMCTS has been upbeat – as indeed it has to be. A Press Release acknowledges that the programme is challenging; it summarises a number of specific changes that have been delivered; and remains confident that the programme will be successfully delivered.

My own view is that it is very important that the transformation programme is delivered. But the managerial challenge of delivering a large scale change should not be underestimated. To date, key judicial figures have been working with HMCTS to promote the need for and advantages of change. Continued judicial leadership will be essential. But I think it would be wise to develop a wider group of ‘change champions’, particularly within the judiciary more broadly and from  the legal professions. Many practitioners will accept that the current system does not serve the public well. Many will have good ideas for how things could be done more efficiently and to greater public benefit. Giving them the encouragement to voice their support for change would be highly desirable.

The NAO report is at https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Early-progess-in-transforming-courts-and-tribunals.pdf.

The HMTCS Press release is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-response-to-national-audit-office-report-on-court-reform-programme?utm_medium=email&utm_source=