Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

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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=

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Search warrants – reform proposals

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As a keen follower of the work of the Law Commission (I was once a Commissioner), I confess I had not spotted the fact that the Commission was undertaking work relating to the law on search warrants. It did not get a mention in either its 12th or 13th programmes.

The reason for this is that in December 2016, they were give a specific commission by the Home Office to undertake work in this area. The first fruits of this project have now been published in the form of  a Consultation Paper setting out the Commission’s initial ideas as to how the law might be reformed.

A search warrant is a written authorisation that allows an investigator to enter premises to search for material or individuals. Search warrants are usually issued by a court following an application by a police officer or other investigator. Most search warrants authorise the investigator to seize and retain relevant material found during the search.

Surprisingly, perhaps, detailed analysis of the law reveals that there over 175 different powers to issue search warrants. Some, like the general power under section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, are used to look for evidence of a criminal offence.  More specific powers allow the searcher to remove stolen goods, drugs, firearms or other dangerous materials or to rescue people or animals in danger or distress. Other powers relate to complex financial or other types of specialised investigation.

The Commission identified a number of problems with the current law:

  • the sheer number of provisions, coupled with their complexity, leads to a confusing legislative landscape;
  • there is inconsistency across search warrant provisions and in the procedure for obtaining a search warrant. Importantly, there is inconsistency in the applicability of statutory safeguards and the protection afforded to particular categories of material;
  • a large proportion of the legislation, in particular the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, predates the advent of electronic material and risks failing to deal with emerging digital technology and the forms in which criminal activity now takes place; and
  • the number of appeals generated by search warrants legislation, and the legal fees incurred, creates excessive cost for all parties.

In the light of their analysis, the Commission has made proposals to:

  • simplify the law and procedure governing search warrants by rendering it more rational and accessible at all stages of the search warrant process;
  • make the law fairer by extending protections, improving judicial scrutiny and making the law more transparent;
  • modernise the law to ensure that it reflects the changing nature of investigations and is equipped to deal with current technology; and
  • make the law more cost-effective by introducing a streamlined way to obtain a search warrant and a new procedure to challenge and correct procedural deficiencies.

The consultation runs until 5 September 2018.

For further details and links to the consultation go to https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/search-warrants/

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 7, 2018 at 9:35 am

Keeping up to date with the Transformation of our Justice System project

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I have commented before that it is quite hard for those outside Government and the Judiciary to keep abreast of developments with the Transformation project. Occasional blog items from HM Courts and Tribunals service are useful but don’t necessarily pick up all that is going on.

I therefore welcome the announcement that from June there is to be a monthly e-bulletin devoted to the programme. Those interested are able to subscribe to the service, thereby receiving regular updates.

The first edition is available at https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/UKHMCTS/bulletins/1f03e7b

Transforming the Justice system – maintaining the estate; answering the phones; better listing

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I have noted many of the developments that are currently taking place within  courts and tribunals, arising from the Transformation programme that has been on-going for the past couple of years. Much of the emphasis has been on the design and development of new practices and procedures – e.g. pilot schemes relating to the use of on-line courts, or the digitization of procedures

A recent blog from the Head of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Susan Acland-Hood, notes that the transformation programme is not just  the use of high-tech innovations. It also includes more bread and butter issues, which nonetheless affect the public and those who work in the courts.

In her recent post, she notes three specific examples of investment, designed to improve the day-to-day operation of the courts and the court service.

1 Maintenance and repair. Many court buildings suffer from heating systems that do not work, lifts that do not work, and a generally drab physical environment. The modernisation programme includes improvements to the overall environment of courts and tribunals.

2 Answering the phone.  Investment is being made in a number of call centres whose task will be to answer questions directed to a number of courts – county courts and magistrates courts. This is designed to ensure that calls don’t go unanswered, especially in smaller courts where there may be insufficient staff to handle all the incoming calls.

3 Tacking delay.  The blog notes that the number of outstanding cases in the Crown Court is at the lowest level since 2004; the time taken from first listing in the Magistrates’ Court to completion at the Crown Court has been decreasing since the peak of 196 days in 2015 to 175 days in 2017. (It is not clear whether this is due to greater efficiency or because few cases are coming into the criminal justice system.) It also note the positive impact of the use of single-justices hearings to reduce delay.

Forther information is available at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/05/17/reform-means-getting-the-basics-right-too/

 

 

Written by lwtmp

June 4, 2018 at 10:01 am

RESOLVING CONSUMER DISPUTES: Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Court System

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Lawyers might think that a government research report with the above heading would/should have been published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Would this not be a central theme in the Transforming the Justice System programme that is currently underway?

It may therefore come as a surprise that this is the title of a report commissioned and published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In it consultants have looked at a number of contexts in which consumers may seek to obtain redress for problems they have with traders or other service providers.

The report seems to have been written with no account taken of the not inconsiderable body of work already done on the use of ADR in England and Wales (e.g. the reports by Professor Dame Hazel Genn). There is no reference to the court transformation programme. There is one reference to the Civil Justice Council (though not to its relatively recent paper on ADR). It is as though BEIS and MoJ are living in separate if not parallel universes, with no communication between them.

This may of course be deliberate. It is possible to imagine that BEIS – who have responsibility for promoting business and protecting consumers – have become fed up with the slow place of change in the use of ADR in the court system and want to charge ahead with their own initiatives.

What is interesting, however, is to see just how pervasive the use of ADR mechanisms are in the UK. The report sets out a list of 95 bodies who offer differing forms of ADR for the resolution of complaints and disputes. And there is an intriguing footnote citing more recent research, undertaken by Citizen’s Advice, which reveals that the total number of such scheme is approaching 150.

From the data they collected, the researchers suggest that ADR is quicker and cheaper than the courts; that those who use either the courts or ADR are in general, older, better off and better educated than consumers taken as a whole; and that these groups are in general better informed about the existence of different forms of ADR.

It is not the function of this report to argue that either use of ADR or use of the courts is to be the preferred method for resolving consumer disputes. But the researchers do, at the end, list a number of ‘indicators’ that could be used for ongoing monitoring of the use of ADR. This suggests to me that BEIS might hope to find over the years greater consumer awareness of and use of ADR schemes for the resolution of consumer disputes.

What the policy outcomes of this study will be are hard to discern from the present document. One may guess that, for modest-value disputes, use of different forms of ADR will steadily grow. What is surprising is the apparent lack of contact with others working on the reform of civil justice.

The report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/resolving-consumer-disputes-alternative-dispute-resolution-and-the-court-system

(I am grateful to Walter Merricks, CBE, for drawing the existence of this report to my attention.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equal treatment: Guidance from the Judicial College

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It should go without saying that, particularly in the legal arena, those who take part in proceedings before courts and tribunals need to feel that they have been treated equally.

This is, of course, easier said than done, as David Lammy’s report on the Criminal Justice System, published in 2017 showed. (See this blog 29 Sept 2017). But for many years first the Judicial Studies Board and now the Judicial College have offered guidance to judges (and by extension to others involved in the justice system) about the best ways to try to ensure that people are treated fairly.

Much of this focusses on the language that judges and others involved in the justice system use generally (for example in relation to litigants in person) and in relation to those from specific sectors of society, who may be defined by their religion, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, mental or physical disabilities, their gender.

In February 2018, the Judicial College published an on-line updated revision to its ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’. Bench books were originally devised as a handy guide to key issues which could sit on the judge’s desk, available for him to refer to it that seemed necessary.

I am not sure whether this particular Bench Book can be used in this way. For one thing, it is very long – well over 400 pages. And the issues raised are such that I would have thought judges would need to have considered them before a case or other proceedings have started. (It would not be desirable for a judge to stop in the middle of a sentence in order to look up how a particular person should be addressed.)

But I don’t agree, as some comments in the press have suggested, that the Equal Treatment Bench Book is an example of political correctness gone mad. It seems to me to be an honourable attempt to raise questions and address issues that arise in practice but that many judges may not have thought about before. (Indeed, I think there are some parts of the book that would be of interest to a wider readership.)

I set out the link to the text here, and invite readers to take a look at the Book and come to their own view on its value.

See https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february-v6-2018.pdf

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Practitioners and academics: new alliances

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In my book Introduction to the English Legal System, I argue that legal academics play an important role in the development of our understanding of the law and that their role should be given more recognition than it sometimes has had in the past. (See Chapter 9, section 9.10).

Recently, however, my interest has been stimulated by stories in the professional legal press concerning a rather different collaboration between the world of legal practice and the academic world.

A number of firms, particularly those engaged in personal injury litigation, have been working with academic statisticians  and ‘decision scientists’ to try to understand what are the variables that are in play when litigation is under consideration and thus trying to understand better the risks of taking particular cases on and to predict better the potential outcome of issues that are being litigated. This may help practitioners to decide whether a case should settle, or be fought through to trial.

The firms concerned think this may be beneficial both for small value large volume groups of claims, as well as high value claims. One finding that has emerged from this work is that the models that are being used  suggest that the upper level of the Judicial College Guidelines on damages for different types of injury is almost irrelevant in most cases.

It is possible that this approach might also be used by the Courts and Tribunals service to analyse cases that pass through the courts. It might help, for example, in making determinations on which cases might be suitable for the small claims track or the fast track in the allocation of civil disputes in the county court – a possibility hinted at by Sir Ernest Ryder in a recent speech where he said:

Digitisation will, if we are sensible, provide us with the opportunity to gather data on the operation of our justice systems in ways that we have often been unable to before. It provides us with the opportunity to make our justice systems more adaptive; but again, only after proper scrutiny and discussion.

It seems to me that these initiatives will grow in number in the near future. What will be needed is proper evaluation of these tools to see whether they do in fact assist in both legal and judicial practice, and how they might be developed.

For press reports on these initiatives see https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/hodge-jones-allen-embraces-predictive-modelling-pi-work; and https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/leading-law-firm-joins-forces-lse-professors-find-ways-predict-litigation.

Sir Ernest Ryder’s speech is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ryder-spt-open-justice-luxembourg-feb-2018.pdf