Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘on-line process

Changing the Court and Tribunal estate – revised principles 2019

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Introduction

The court and tribunal estate has changed significantly since 2010. In making its changes, the Ministry of Justice applied a number of key principles: maintaining access to justice, delivering value for money, and ensuring operational efficiency. Savings achieved are being used to finance reform of the Courts and Tribunals service. The reform programme will change the ways court and tribunal services are delivered. In particular, improved technology will be designed to enable people to access justice in simpler, easier and swifter ways. Provision for hearings in courtrooms will remain essential for the delivery of justice, but fewer interactions with the court and tribunals system are likely to happen in a courtroom.

Nonetheless, court closures are controversial. Many involve much-loved local historic buildings. Many complain about the time needed to get to an alternative court/tribunal building if an existing venue is shut. In 2018, the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on the principles in should adopt in relation to any further closures it might argue are necessary. In ‘Fit for the Future: Transforming the Court and Tribunal Estate’, published in May 2019, the Government set out its response to this consultation.

The Government has stated “We need to consider further court closures in the context of our modernisation approach, which will ensure that we provide fair and proportionate access to justice. We expect an increase in the number of people using remote access to the courts which will reduce the use of court and tribunal buildings in the future. We make a commitment that we will not act on that assumption by proposing to close courts unless we have sound evidence that the reforms are actually reducing the use of those buildings.”

Travel time

The issue that worried respondents most was how the time of travel to and from court was being assessed. The Ministry had proposed that the benchmark should be an ability to get there and return home within a day. Respondents argued this was too vague. The Ministry of Justice has responded: “ We have therefore enhanced our principles to make it clear that we expect journeys to court to be reasonable, and set out that for the overwhelming majority of users a reasonable journey would be one that allowed them to leave home no earlier than 7.30am, attend their hearing, and return home by 7.30pm the same day, and by public transport where necessary. We have also set out in much greater detail how we will measure this, what other factors we will consider – for example, the circumstances of users including those that are vulnerable, and the mitigations we can apply when users have difficulty attending court.”

Court/tribunal buildings design

While people were broadly positive about proposals regarding the design of court and tribunal buildings, there was a clear message that the security of those who use and work in our courts and tribunals needs to be paramount, along with ensuring suitable facilities for vulnerable users. The Court and Tribunal Design Guide (published at www.gov.uk/government/publications/court-and-tribunal-design-guide) provides a flexible room design which includes enhanced security standards and provides for the needs of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

Digital support officers

Digital Support Officers will support the introduction and longer-term support for digital services in local courts, as well as support which will assist users who do not wish or are unable to access online services. This development was broadly welcomed. There were concerns regarding the resourcing of these services. The Ministry has stated that it “will ensure that the right number of staff support these activities.”

Future closures

The Ministry expects that increased use of digital services will mean that fewer court and tribunals hearings will be needed in a traditional courtroom setting, and therefore fewer buildings will be needed. However, “we are committed to having clear evidence that these reductions are happening before we decide to close any further sites.”

Revised estates principles

“• Everyone who needs to access the court and tribunal estate should be able to do so. Journey times to court should be reasonable and take into account the different needs and circumstances of those using the courts. Mitigations are available for those who experience difficulty attending court.

  • We want to make sure that our buildings are in the best condition possible for those that use them and that they can be maintained at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
  • We will focus on the provision of multijurisdictional centres which are able to provide flexible access for the people who use our courts and tribunals. We will harness the power of technology to offer enhanced access and greater flexibility.”

Comment

Revised statements of principle will not prevent future controversy. Indeed, at the end of October 2019, the Justice Select Committee issued a very critical report on the whole court reform programme in general and the court closure programme in particular. There have been many critical comments in the professional legal press.

My own view is that the court/tribunal reform programme will, in time, be an improvement on the present system. However as all those who come into contact with courts and tribunals will have to adapt to the new system, there will be nervousness ahead of proposed changes that have not yet been implemented.

The item is adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fit-for-the-future-transforming-the-court-and-tribunal-estate which sets out both the original consultation paper and the Government’s response.

The Justice Committee critique is at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmselect/cmjust/190/19003.htm

On-line courts come a stage closer: Bill to establish new On-line Procedure Committee

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May 1st 2019 saw an important stage reached in the process of creating more on-line procedures to deal with family, civil justice and tribunals proceedings. The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill was introduced to House of Lords where it had its first reading.

The Bill, when enacted, will provide for the creation of a new judicially led procedure committee. It will develop special rules to ensure that on-line procedures are easy to use and accessible to the public.

This builds on new processes already introduced such as divorce online and money claims online.

A press announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/even-more-people-set-to-benefit-from-online-court-reform

 

 

 

Money claims on line

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For many years it has been possible to start a small money claim by completing forms on-line and submitting them to the court.

In April 2018, following a pilot launched in July 2017, a new on-line process for making a money claim with a value of up to £10,000 (the current small claims limit)  has been launched, designed to be easier to use by potential claimants. Rather than having to fill in and post a paper form, or use the original on-line system which dated from 2002, the new pilot allows people to issue their County Court claim more easily, settle the dispute online and also recommends mediation services  (which can save time, stress, and money).

According to the Press Release announcing this decision “Early evidence [from the original pilot] suggests that the online system has improved access to justice as engagement from defendants has improved.”

At present, it seems that the only way that one can see how the new process works in practice is to go on-line and submit the details of a potential claim – this includes setting up a special account. What I think is urgently required is one of those ‘how to’ videos that are available on You Tube. (There are videos with this or similar titles but they don’t specifically refer to the new MoJ scheme.)

The press release announcing the development is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/quicker-way-to-resolve-claim-disputes-launched-online.

If you would like to explore the money claim website more fully, it can be found at https://www.gov.uk/make-money-claim

 

Divorce on-line: recent developments

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On January 30 2018 the Government announced that a fully online divorce application process is being tested across England and Wales for the first time. (It had been trialled in a small number of areas from 2017.)

The initial pilot allowed people seeking a divorce to use an online system which offered prompts and guidance to assist them in completing their application. But they still had to  print off the form and send it to the court.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has now extended the service so that the application is now fully digital – submitting the form, sending the relevant documents, and payment. In the first week HMCTS received 130 online applications.

According to HMCTS the online system has drastically cut the number of applications being returned because of errors – showing a 90% improvement from paper forms. This is particularly important given the increasing numbers seeking a divorce without using a lawyer to help them.

Users of the new service seem to like it. It has already gained positive feedback with people welcoming the simplified, streamlined and easy to understand system which delivers their application instantly – without the worry of it being lost in the post.

The next stages will include making the system available for use by legal representatives. A date has not yet been publicly announced for this further development.

For further detail, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service-tests-fully-digital-divorce-application

Experience in other contexts suggests that once up and running, use of on-line application procedures will increase very rapidly. Indeed, people will wonder why this development had not occurred years ago. This sort of development is at the heart of the Transformation of our Justice System reform programme.

Written by lwtmp

February 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm