Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (7): steps to recovery

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Since March 2020, the Government has worked closely with the judiciary and others to ensure the justice system continues to perform its vital role while keeping court and tribunal users safe.

To achieve this, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has rapidly expanded the use of technology to allow hearings to be conducted by phone and video.

HMCTS also temporarily closed around half of its buildings to focus effort and resources more effectively. The most urgent cases have been prioritised by the judiciary to ensure public safety, protect the vulnerable and safeguard children.

Having responded to the immediate crisis, HMCTS is now focusing on how to recover its operations to increase courts and tribunals capacity to deal both with normal workloads across jurisdictions and outstanding cases.

HMCTS has recently published a progress report to update those interested on its recovery plans. It sets out in a short booklet format the areas of working being undertaken in the short and medium terms.

It assumes that the need to continue to maintain social distancing as far as possible will continue, at least into 2021. It also emphasises that the programme of reform of Courts and Tribunals is continuing. Lessons from the experience of new ways of working, resulting from the need to meet the challenge of Covid 19, must be learned as the broader reform programme unfurls.

The Progress update is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/court-and-tribunal-recovery-update-in-response-to-coronavirus

The update has been accompanied by a statement from the Lord Chief Justice and the Vice President of Tribunals, available at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/courts-and-tribunals-recovery/

See also a blog from the Head of HMCTS at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2020/07/01/coronavirus-recovering-in-our-courts-and-tribunals/

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a court? Proposals for a modern approach to the courts and tribunals estate.

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The programme for restructuring how all the buildings currently used by courts and tribunals – to ensure better and more effective usage – is gathering pace. A significant contribution to how detailed policy may develop was made this month by the legal think-tank, JUSTICE. A recent working party report (in which I participated)  recommends:

  • The reconception of court and tribunal rooms as ‘justice spaces’. This new model is defined by its inherent flexibility and rejection of the over-standardisation prevalent in existing courts and tribunals. Justice spaces are designed to adapt to the particular dispute resolution process taking place within them, and the needs of users, rather than the other way around.
  • A flexible and responsive court and tribunal estate, made up of a number of dynamic parts. The Working Party suggests a portfolio of Flagship Justice Centres; Local Justice Centres; ‘Pop-up courts’; remote access justice facilities; and digital justice spaces.

The Working Party emphasises the importance of technology, and its potential to meet user needs and maximise access to justice. All of the Working Party’s proposals are anchored in a commitment to a core set of principled considerations to ensure fairness of process and access to justice. Finally, the report makes practical recommendations aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of the HMCTS Reform Programme.

The full report (and accompanying Press Release) can be accessed at http://justice.org.uk/what-is-a-court/