Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘chapter 7’ Category

The future of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts

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For a number of years, Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) have existed in a small number of court locations in England. Inspired by a model developed in the USA, Judge Nicholas Crichton thought that such courts could offer a ‘problem-solving’ approach for families caught up in the justice system, because of the negative interactions between the use of drugs or alcohol and the treatment of children. If parents could be helped to kick their habits, it was argued, this might enable families to be kept together, rather than divided with children being taken into care.

Although judges and ministers like the concept, the roll out of the concept has been left very much to local initiatives. In 2015, a FDAC National Unit was created to support existing schemes (there are currently 10 teams, working in 15 courts, service families in 23 local authorities) and to encourage the development of new schemes.

In June 2018, the National Unit announced that it would have to close, as central government funding was being withdrawn from the Unit. Since then, a firm of solicitors has stumped up £12,500 for 3 years, and is leading a fundraising campaign to obtain the £250,000 needed to keep the Unit open.

The schemes themselves are also funded on a cash limited ad hoc basis. For example, in October 2017, £6m was awarded to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to enable the work of FDAC teams to be extended to more boroughs in London. The grant was made from the Government’s Life Chances Fund.

There is evidence that, where they exist, schemes deliver savings to the taxpayer (by reducing the costs of keeping children in care, for example.) But it seems that there is still someway to go before use of the approach will be rolled out on a national basis, and funded on a secure recurrent basis.

Further information on the FDAC National Unit is at http://fdac.org.uk/.

News about the private funding initiative is at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-steps-in-to-help-save-family-drug-and-alcohol-court-mtk6jrtxd.

News about the grant from the Life Chances fund is at https://tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/about-us/news/stories/problem-solving-family-drug-and-alcohol-courts-fdacs-support-more-families-6m-life-chances-grant/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

July 16, 2018 at 11:06 am

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=

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

The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill 2018

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The great Transformation of the Justice System programme, being advanced by the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service was initially supported, legislatively, by a substantial Prisons and Courts Bill 2017. This fell when the General Election was called in June 2017. (See this Blog,  March 2017 and July 2017). Since then, legal system watchers have been awaiting the return of the Bill, either in its original form or in a new guise.

Our patience is now at least partially rewarded with the publication of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill 2018, which was introduced into the House of Lords at the end of May 2018. As its title suggests, this is not the full legislative package originally envisaged. Rather it is a short, 4 clause Bill  Iwith Schedue) which proposes measures to facilitate the more flexible deployment of judicial and other staff.

Once enacted, the judiciary will be flexibly deployed across jurisdictions, allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases, helping with their career progression. It will also enable judges to be used in specific courts or tribunals where there are serious backlogs of cases.

As regards the taking over of tasks currently undertaken by judges, authorised staff could carry out some of the more straightforward judicial functions, including tasks like issuing a summons; taking a plea; extending time for service of applications; or considering applications for variations of directions made in private or public law  children  cases. One noteworthy measure is that the role of the Justices’ Clerk, currently a statutory one, will become non-statutory. This will enable them to give advice on law in the Family Court as well as in the Magistrates’ Court.

Details of the Bill are at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0108/lbill_2017-20190108_en_2.htm#sch1

Written by lwtmp

June 4, 2018 at 1:59 pm

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

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

Family justice: reforming public law case procedures

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Hot on the heels of the announcement of on-line divorce applications (see this blog Feb 2 2018), information has just been published as a blog from HMCTS on developments relating to the digitalisation of procedures relating to public law childrens’ cases.

Emma Petty, Service Manager for the Public Law project, writes:

We want to make the public law process more efficient, ensuring the court, parties and their representatives have access to the right information at the right time to help decide the best outcomes for children involved in public law cases. Based on our early thinking, the aims of the project could be to:

  • provide an online application process which speeds up the gatekeeping process and shares information with partner agencies at the point of submission
  • improve the process for dealing with urgent applications
  • enable users to see the progress of their case and to take action to progress their case online
  • provide clear signposting to support available outside HMCTS, to assist parties acting in person and without a lawyer
  • enable users to upload and access documents and evidence digitally both outside and inside the courtroom
  • ensure suitable facilities and support are provided at hearing centres
  • enable hearings, where appropriate, to be conducted online
  • provide fast digital access to outcomes of hearings
  • ensure those who need it get the support they need to access our digital services.

Over coming months, the Public Law Project team will be working with practitioners and others involved in these types of case in developing practices and procedures to deliver these goals. This is an important development within the scope of the Transformation of the Justice System policy.

Further detail is at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/07/designing-a-public-law-service-to-meet-user-needs/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm