Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘transformation of our justice system

Improving Immigration and Asylum procedures

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Immigration and asylum is always controversial. People have strong view, both for and against current immigration policy and practice. But these policies are underpinned by a legislative framework (albeit a very complex one) and if we believe, as I do, that upholding the rule is an important societal value, then it is important that those impacted by our law on immigration and asylum should be able to rely on decisions that are made in accordance with the law, and that there should be rights of appeal where something has gone wrong.

For a number of years, however, the immigration and asylum appeals process has been under close government scrutiny. In the early part of the 21st century, the concern was with the huge numbers of immigration cases being taken on judicial review to the High Court. More recently, most of these cases were taken away from the High Court and transferred to the Immigration and Asylum chambers of the First Tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal.

However, numbers remained high. In this context, there were concerns that too many cases brought were unmerited, being used as a delaying tactic to postpone deportation; and that some of those providing advice and assistance in immigration cases were not providing a properly professional service.

As part of its major series of reports on the justice system, written to assist the Transformation of our Justice System programme led by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, JUSTICE, the all-party Human Rights group, has just published a report Immigration and Asylum Appeals – a Fresh Look. (I declare an interest, I was a member of the working party, chaired by Sir Ross Cranston, that wrote the report.)

In it they try to take a dispassionate look at the problems and challenges which face the immigration and asylum appeals procedure. Their approach is to look at each of the steps through which a case may go in order to  identify difficulties and recommend practical change.

The report is quite detailed. In outline, it argues:

Home Office refusal decisions The Working Party’s view is  that better Home Office decision-making – with more emphasis on getting it right first time – is the key to delivering a better appellate system;

The application process for immigration and asylum appeals. Here the working party argues that more detailed attention needs to be paid to the move to online processes. At the same time the working party addresses the issue of unsupervised, unqualified and poor quality representatives purporting to provide advice and assistance to appellants;

Appeals against adverse decisions of the Home Office on immigration and asylum matters in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This examines the important role of tribunal case workers in moving cases forward. It also wants to see stronger judicial case management to improve tribunal efficiency.

Hearings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). This section of the report focusses in particular on video-conferencing and video-hearings, recognising the potential advantages of these models. At the same time, the report stresses the fundamental principles that should govern any expansion in their use and where they will not be appropriate.

Appeals to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), Judicial Reviewapplications and appeals to the Court of Appeal. This part of the report focusses on the multiple stages that may be gone through when seeking permission to appeal. The working party considered the tension between the important right of review in this jurisdiction and the pressure on the system that flows from too many appellate stages. While not recommending removing rights of appeal, the report outlines ways to streamline this process.

A key theme to emerge from the report is that there needs to be much better communication between the parties.The Working Party considers how this might be facilitated both at the pre-hearing stage and on a continuing informal basis.

Detailed recommendations are made on ways to improve the management of cases and to reduce the number of unnecessary appeals – to the benefit of all participants in the system and the administration of justice more generally.

The above note has been adapted from the report which is available at https://justice.org.uk/new-justice-working-party-report-on-immigration-and-asylum-appeals/

 

 

 

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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

Going digital – piloting video hearings

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The Transforming our Justice System reform programme has flagged the possibility of much more use of digital technology in the processing and handling of disputes. Following the announcement at the beginning of February 2018 that it is now possible to start divorce proceedings on-line (see this blog for 2 Feb 2018), we now have a new announcement about how cases might be heard using new technologies

This development, announced on 15 February 2018, concerns the piloting of video hearings in the Tax Tribunal. This initiative will be rolled out in a measured way, with potential participants being asked whether they would like their cases to be dealt with on-line.

It seems that the Tax Tribunal has been chosen for this experiment as it is presumed that many tax cases turn on rather complex points of law, rather than major disputes on questions of fact which might require the presence of parties in the same room.

This new announcement builds on another pilot, which ran in the autumn of 2017 in which a number of case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber were dealt with through video hearings. The results of these seem to have been very positive and demonstrate that such issues can be dealt with more efficiently on-line without compromising standards of justice.

HMCTS do seem to be taking a measured approach to these developments, wanting to bring all those involved – judges, practitioners and litigants – with them, to ensure that these developments do meet user needs.

Further announcements will emerge in the months ahead.

To read more about the video Tax Hearing pilot, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/video-hearing-pilot-launched.

For the HMCTS blog on these developments go to https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/15/video-hearings-can-make-a-difference-for-court-and-tribunal-users/

 

 

Written by lwtmp

February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

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

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

Reshaping the Court estate: a further consultation

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The programme of transformation of the justice system depends on the closure of a significant number of existing court buildings and reinvestment of the savings of running costs and the capital receipts from buildings that have been disposed of in a smaller but more efficient court estate.

In January 2018, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service published a Consultation Paper setting out the basic principles on which detailed plans are now being developed. At the same time there were 5 more specific papers setting our proposals for closing courts in a number of areas, including Cambridge, the Thames Valley, London and Lancashire. There is nothing particularly new in this paper, though it does give interesting accounts of a number of initiatives currently on-going to deliver new ways of working in courts and tribunals.

The key aims are that there should be

  • more videolinks and virtual hearings;
  • digital service delivery, with a major reduction in the use of paper files;
  • flexible opening hours;
  • improved service delivery with much more work being undertaken online.

The number of court buildings will be reduced from around 530 buildings (a decade ago) to a total of 239 buildings in 2018. It is accepted that this will lead to some increase in travel time to reach those buildings, but the vast majority will still, according to HMCTS figures, still be within 2 hours travelling distance. As much work will in future be delivered without the need for lawyers and parties to be present in court, it is argued that this will further mitigate any inconvenience. What will be important will be to ensure that cases listed for a particular day are actually dealt with on that day.

The Consultation Paper reminds readers that the transformation policy is designed

  • to enable existing and new buildings to be much more flexible in the ways in which they can be used;
  • to ensure better public facilities – e.g. waiting rooms, rooms for clients to consult with their advisers;
  • to ensure that the vulnerable are able to feel confident about using court facilities;
  • to include of modern ICT to enable more work to be done online
  • to support the needs of all the professionals who use the courts;
  • to move towards an estate that provides dedicated hearing centres, while seeking
    opportunities to concentrate back office functions in a smaller number of centres where they can be carried out most efficiently.

There will be resistance to some of these ideas. For example, the Bar has already argued against more flexible opening hours. It is said that this could be discriminatory against women barristers who may find it hard to take cases outside traditional working hours. While this is an issue that must be addressed, such arguments fail to acknowledge the fact historically the Court Service has only paid lip-service to the idea of delivering a service to court users. Many parties to litigation may find it more convenient to attend hearings outside of 10-4, Mondays to Fridays. The transformation programme provides a challenge to those who work in the courts to consider how they can deliver the service that clients want, when they want it.

The Consultation runs until 29 March 2018. The documentation can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/

 

Written by lwtmp

January 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm