Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘court reform

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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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

Transforming the Justice system – case studies

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It is quite hard for those outside the justice system to know exactly what is going on with the overall transformation programme. But a source of really interesting material is Tribunals Journal published 3 times a year by the Judicial College. (I declare an interest – I have just been appointed to its editorial Board.)

The latest edition, published in December 2017, contains a number of interesting case studies on developments which are relevant to the transformation programme. The following items are particularly worth noting.

Lorna Findlay, who is an Employment Judge, was an early volunteer to receive training to entitle her to sit as a judge in the county court. ) One of the transformation programme’s central goals is the creation of ‘one judiciary’ whereby judges can be deployed to different areas of work.. The author describes the basic training she received and the shadowing she undertook before she started sitting as a District Judge on civil matters. Her overall impression was that the essential features of the judicial role were the same whether in the ET or in the county court.

She felt that her experience in the ET gave her more confidence in handling litigants in person, who appear more often in the tribunal, than some of her civil judicial colleagues. At the same time, she thought that procedural rules in the county court, which enable judges to give only brief summaries of key facts and grounds for decision, should be brought into the Employment Tribunal rules – ET decisions are currently notoriously and unnecessarily long in her view.

Sian Davies, another ET judge based in Wales, described a pioneering initiative to assist litigants in person. The aim was to find a way for the ET itself to be able to signpost litigants in person to sources of assistance that might help them frame and argue their cases. The obvious challenge is that the ET must not appear to be taking sides. But with the reduction in the availability of legal aid, the tribunal argued that new ways of trying to assist should be developed. One outcome has been the creation of an ET Litigants in Person Scheme, in which volunteers – acting pro bono – offer advice and assistance to parties before the tribunal. These are based in the London Central ET and Cardiff.

Meleri Tudur writes about the use of registrars and now tribunal case workers to undertake some of the more routine paperwork that historically had been undertaken by the judiciary. In some cases this had led to a significant reduction in the amount of time taken by judges on what is known as ‘box work’.

To me, these are all examples of initiatives designed to make the existing courts and tribunals service more responsive to the needs of users. Tribunals Journal should be essential reading, not just for the tribunal judiciary, but for those involved in the reform of the justice system.

The Winter 2017 number of Tribunals Journal can be found at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tribunals-journal-winter-2017.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Queen’s Speech 2017 and the Parliamentary session: 2017-2019

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The  draft legislation relating to the exit of the UK from the European Union is going to be extremely complicated – both in terms of the technical content of the proposed measures, and in terms of the political controversies that the legislation will attract, arising from the fact that Mrs May is leading a minority Government in the House of Commons and that there is a great deal of opposition to Brexit in the House of Lords.

The Government has therefore decided that, exceptionally, the current Parliament should last for two years rather than more normal one. Thus the next Queens Speech, following that  delivered in June 2017, will not be made until May 2019.

In addition to the raft of measures required to deal with different aspect of Brexit, the 2017 speech contained annoucements about two measures that will have specific impact on the English legal system.

  1. “Legislation will  be introduced to modernise the courts system and to help reduce motor insurance premiums.” This will not actually be wholly new. The measures relating to court reform and insurance premiums were originally contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, which fell when the 2017 General Election was called. The revised version of the new Bill has not yet been published but may be anticipated in Autumn 2017.
  2. “To support victims, my government will take forward measures to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquests.” This is a reform that has long been called for. The details of this measure are not yet available.The Queen’s speech may be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2017

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name? ‘Business and Property Courts’

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From June 2017, ‘The Business and Property Courts’ will be the new name for England and Wales’ international dispute resolution jurisdictions and will act as a single umbrella for business specialist courts across England and Wales.

This is rather more than a simple re-branding. The main objective of the new arrangements is that it will enable appropriately qualified judges to be deployed more flexibly so that their expertise can be used in whatever forum it is needed.

Business and Property Courts brings under a single umbrella the following existing courts and lists:

  • The Commercial Court (covering all its existing subject areas of shipping, sale of goods, insurance and reinsurance etc.)
  • The Admiralty Court.
  • The Mercantile Court.
  • The Technology and Construction Court (covering all its traditional areas of major technology and construction cases).
  • The Financial List (covering banking and financial markets).
  • The Companies and Insolvency Court.
  • The Patents Court.
  • The Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (the “IPEC”).
  • The Competition List.

Other courts and lists will be added in future to include the existing business and property cases in the Chancery Division.

There will also be Business and Property Courts in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and in Cardiff, with expansions to Newcastle and Liverpool likely in the future.

Although the framework will be new, existing  practices and procedures will be retained, at least for the time being.

The details are in https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/business-and-property-courts-media-release/

Written by lwtmp

March 29, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Transforming the English Legal System: Civil Justice

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The Consultation Paper Transforming our Justice System sets out proposals for reform of the civil justice system that build on work undertaken earlier in 2016 by the Civil Justice Council, JUSTICE and Lord Justice Briggs – all of which have been noted in this blog.
The principal features of what is now proposed are:

 

i. Introducing a new online process for resolving claims: In line with plans across all jurisdictions, we will move more cases away from physical court rooms. Building on Lord Justice Briggs’ proposals in his Civil Court Structures Review we will create a new process to resolve many disputes entirely online, using innovative technology and specialist case officers to progress routine cases through the system and reserving judicial time for the most complex cases. We will create a new, streamlined Rules Committee to design this new system and keep the processes simple. When hearings are required, they may be held over thetelephone or video conference, focusing court resources on the most complex and difficult cases. This will mean that cases should reach a quicker resolution.

ii. Encouraging parties to resolve disputes themselves where possible: We will
increase signposting to mediation and alternative dispute resolution services to
help people avoid court for minor disputes that would be better handled privately,
without needing the court to intervene.
iii. Extending the fixed recoverable costs regime: Fixed recoverable costs are legal
costs which can be recovered from the losing side by the successful party to a
claim, at a prescribed rate. (For civil claims, these are set out in the Civil
Procedure Rules). We will build on measures introduced in the last Parliament for
low value personal injury claims, to limit the level of legal costs recoverable.
These measures provide transparency and certainty for all parties and are
designed to ensure that the amount of legal work done is proportionate to the
value of the claim. We are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to
as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals
on which we will then consult.
iv. Civil enforcement: We will give the [county court] powers to issue attachment of
earnings orders to the High Court to create a simpler, more consistent approach
to enforcement, and make sure more people can get the money they are owed.
We will also commence the fixed deductions scheme (fixed table) provisions in
the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 in the County Court and
introduce fixed tables in the High Court, providing transparency and certainty of
the rate of deductions from debtors’ earnings to pay back their creditors.
v. Replacing statutory declarations in county court proceedings with a witness
statement verified by a statement of truth: We will replace outdated and currently
inconsistent procedures, which are inconvenient for people to use and resource
intensive to administer, with a more modern digital approach but keeping strong
penalties where a statement of truth is found to be false.

See chapter 3 in https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals/supporting_documents/consultationpaper.pdf

Transforming the English Legal System

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September 2016 saw the publication of an extremely important Consultation Paper, which sets out ideas on how the courts and tribunals system in England and Wales should be reformed.

Its proposals are based on three principles, that the reformed system should be proportionate, accessible and just.

The Paper states:

To deliver a system that is proportionate and tailored for the complexity and
seriousness of individual cases, [the Government is] taking a consistent approach across jurisdictions [i.e., criminal, administrative, family and civil], including:
i. More use of case officers for routine tasks: Judges spend too much of their time
dealing with uncontroversial, routine or straightforward matters which could just as
effectively be dealt with by court staff under judicial authorisation. Where it is
appropriate, specially trained staff will be able to carry out some of this work to
help justice move faster.
ii. More decisions made “on the papers”: Where a case is relatively straightforward or
routine, representations will be made online in writing for a judge to consider
outside of a traditional court room, without the need for a physical hearing,
meaning a more convenient experience for everyone involved.
iii. More virtual hearings: Where a judge needs to listen to the parties make their
arguments, it will be possible in many cases to hold the hearings over telephone or
video conference, without the need for the parties to travel to a court building.
There will still be an important place for physical court hearings for criminal trials
and other serious or complex cases, but where they are appropriate, virtual
hearings offer an easy and convenient alternative for everybody.
iv. More cases resolved out of court: In appropriate cases, we will encourage parties
to settle their disputes themselves, without the intervention of the courts.
The Government wants to make legal processes more accessible and easier for to use, with many  services moving online – for example:
i. Putting probate applications online: Dealing with probate affairs can be difficult and
complicated at a time when people are often coping with bereavement. We are
digitising the probate system to allow the entire process to be managed online,
from application to resolution, making it an easier and faster process when cases
are uncontested.
ii. Managing divorce online: Work has already begun to allow divorce applications to
be made and managed online, removing some of the bureaucracy from often
stressful and lengthy proceedings and simplifying cumbersome administrative
processes.
iii. Digitising applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney: Allowing people to make
arrangements for a time in the future when they may not be able to make
decisions by themselves is a helpful but often emotionally stressful process.
Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, resulting in fewer application
forms being returned because of errors. We will build on this by making the system
fully digital to deliver a quicker service.
Across the board, the Government wants to simplify forms and make processes more
straightforward so they are easier for everyone to understand. Many of these changes are designed to bring the justice system up to date for the modern world and take advantage of advances in technology to provide a faster,more accessible service for users of the courts and tribunals.
It is important, however, any unintended effects of this technology are taken into account to make sure that the system remains just. Thus the Government intends to:
i. Provide a system that works for everyone: Digital and online processes are easy
and efficient for many people, but the justice system must also work for people
who do not or cannot access services online. We must provide an alternative route
of access for every service that moves online. ..
ii. Continue to ensure open justice: It is a core principle of our justice system that
justice is open. “It is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental
importance that justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and
undoubtedly seen to be done,” as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in 1924. The
principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and
hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable.
Most of these changes build on initiatives that are already underway. What is important about this new Consultation Paper is that it is being jointly promoted by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals.
I set out in separate blog items the sections of the Paper on each of the different parts of the justice system.
The paper is not open for consultation for long. To read the paper and find the questions to which the government is seeking answers go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:31 am