Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘chapter 7’ Category

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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Transforming family justice: current projects – progress reports

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There are currently six projects associated with the Family Justice system.

1.Online divorce

This project aims to deliver a transformed national end-to-end digital service for individuals and their legal representatives to make an application to legally end their marriage or civil partnership and resolve associated financial issues.

The first stage – supporting applications for uncontested divorce, and allowing digital upload of marriage certificates – was rolled out nationally from 30 April 2018. By mid-September 2018, over 13,500 on-line applications had been received. Fewer than 1% of applications have contained errors that meant they needed to be resubmitted, compared to over 40% of the old paper forms.

The Government is now testing an online system, to be used by legal representatives, for Financial Remedy consent orders.

2 Online probate for personal applicants

This project aims to provide a digital, user-designed application form and a new case management system to actively manage probate applications. The project will create a simpler, digital process for users, as well as reducing the cost and time spent processing applications. To date the service has received 3,862 applications with just over 3,194 grants of probate having been issued.

3 Family public law

This project will make the family 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.

In particular, it will allow evidence to be submitted and shared electronically and cases can be managed much more securely and effectively.

It will also allow orders to be written and produced in real time in court (in many cases), meaning that everyone leaves with immediate clarity on what has been agreed.

The first parts of the new system to be developed are now being tested.

4.Adoption

Following the first stage of the work on family public law, there is a project to digitise the adoption process for both public and private law cases, again developing systems to manage these cases more securely and effectively. Once all the parts are complete, they will fit together so that cases can move seamlessly from one to another.

The plan is for this work to start imminently and to run alongside the public law service development.

5. Court of Protection

This project will be to enable people using the Court of Protection to initiate and manage their cases online. This work will begin in Spring 2019.

6. Private Family Law

Later, the project will move to develop and implement systems and processes to enable private family law litigants to initiate and manage their cases online – again, fitting together seamlessly. This work is expected to begin in Summer 2019.

This information has been derived and adapted from Reform Update Autumn 2018, published by HMCTS, and available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

Written by lwtmp

October 3, 2018 at 3:06 pm

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reducing family conflict: reform of the legal requirements for divorce

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At present, divorce law requires people seeking divorce must show that there has been irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. To do this they must give evidence of one or more of 5 facts; 3 are based on ‘fault’  (adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion) and 2 are based on a period of separation (2 years’ separation where the other spouse consents to the divorce, or 5 years’ separation where the other spouse does not consent).

In practice, only about 2% of respondents contest the petitioner’s decision to seek a divorce. Of these 2% of respondents, only a handful go on to contest (“defend”) the divorce at a court hearing. This means that, under the current law, a spouse who wishes to divorce can already be certain of doing so in practice, regardless of the other spouse’s wishes, provided that the petition establishes irretrievable breakdown.

There are domestic abuse cases where the current grounds for divorce can be used in a coercive way.

Proposals detailed in the consultation include:

  • retaining the sole ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage
  • removing the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart
  • introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the court of the intention to divorce
  • removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application

The consultation also seeks views on the minimum timeframe for the process between the interim decree of divorce (decree nisi) and final decree of divorce (decree absolute) (currently 6 weeks, one day). This will allow couples time to reflect on the decision to divorce and to reach agreement on arrangements for the future where divorce is inevitable.

The Consultation runs until mid-December 2018.

The Paper can be accessed at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/reform-of-the-legal-requirements-for-divorce/.

A detailed Press Release is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/justice-secretary-confirms-plans-to-reduce-conflict-in-divorce

Although there has been considerable public response to these proposals, it can be anticipated that at the end of the consultation dissenting opinions will be heard. The paper has also been criticised for not addressing other issues arising from relationship breakdown, in particular affecting couples who have not married or engaged in a civil partnership.

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 2, 2018 at 11:16 am

The functions of the family court: the need for joined-up policies?

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Shortly before his retirement from the post of President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby gave an extremely interesting lecture at the University of Liverpool about what he regarded as the failings of the current family court system.

He developed two principal arguments. The first focussed on what might be called the core functions of the family court; the other offered a more ‘holistic’ vision for the family justice system.

In relation to the first, Sir James noted that the core functions of the family court involved three key issues

  • determining questions of status – were a couple married or in a civil partnership or not;
  • determining what should happen to the children of marriage; and
  • determining the financial consequences of family breakdown.

He argued that the procedural rules and practices in relation to each of these questions were complex and resulted in potentially people having to go to court on more than one occasion to resolve their issues. Despite the unification of the family court under a single name, it did not and could not in practice operate as a ‘one-stop shop’.

It could be argued that these days questions of status were increasingly being determined on a ‘self-help’ basis (which would increase if the basic law on divorce were to be reformed and simplified) ; and that financial matters were being decided in special financial proceedings meetings taking place outside the formal court structure. Thus the courts were increasingly used for determining questions relating to children. But these trends should not mean that the issue of whether the family court could become more of a one stop shop should not be investigated more closely.

It was the second set of arguments – for a more holistic approach to family justice – that I found interesting. Sir James is a keen advocate of ‘problem-solving’ courts – courts that have the resources and expertise to try to deal with all the problems families may face (including, for example, criminal matters or public law issues such as immigration status) – so that families can obtain a secure basis on which they can build their future lives.

This is an interesting argument and reflects (although Sir James may not have been aware of this) research and policy development a number of years back which argued that people don’t have discrete problems (e.g. housing, or employment, or family – which are categories created by lawyers which don’t reflect how life is actually lived) but ‘clusters’ of problems. This led to interesting experiments, now regrettably abandoned for the creation of Community Legal Advice Centres or Community Legal Advice Networks, that could deal with clients in a ‘holistic’ faction.

These views are controversial, at least for lawyers, since they would mean cutting across long established categorisation of the justice system – into criminal, civil, administrative and family justice system – each with their own practices, procedures and traditions. For this reason, my hunch is that Sir James’ views may not be taken forward, at least in the short-term.

But I thought his arguments were rather refreshing, and worth thinking about.

You can read his lecture at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/speech-by-pfd-what-is-family-law.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

September 6, 2018 at 11:50 am

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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=