Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘transformation of our justice system

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

Keeping the administrative justice system under review

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When the first major step was taken in the creation of what we would today recognise as a modern administrative justice system – the passing of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958 – the Government of the day decided to create a statutory body – the Council on Tribunals – to keep the work of tribunals under review.

It was a body whose influence waxed and waned over subsequent years, but its reports were influential, particularly in promoting the need for training of tribunal personnel, ensuring that procedures would enable unrepresented parties to have the chance to be heard.

The Leggatt Review of Tribunals (of which I was a member) started with the view that the time had come to abolish the Council – but during discussion, it changed its mind, not least because of the powerful advocacy of its then Chair, the late Lord Tony Newton. Leggatt ended up recommending retention of the body that came to be known as the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC).

In the so-called bonfire of the quangos launched by the Cameron-Clegg Coalition Government in 2010, the AJTC was once again back in the firing line. The truth is that civil servants had long wanted to get rid of a body which they felt added to their administrative burdens without offering much in return.

Notwithstanding the fact that in its final years, the AJTC did extremely valuable work looking at some of the principles and broad strategic issues affecting the administrative justice system, the axe finally fell on the AJTC in 2013.

This was not however the end of the story. An Administrative Justice Advisory Group was created in 2012. In 2013 it became the Administrative Justice Forum (AJF). It was given a specific remit to keep under review the strategic programme of work being undertaken with regard to the administrative justice system – in particular tribunals – work now being taken forward under the Transforming Our Justice System programme.

In March 2017, the Government published the final report of the AJF, summarising some of the issues on which the Ministry of Justice had been working since 2013. Although the work is still ongoing, the AJF has been shut down.

Interestingly, its functions have not entirely disappeared. Arrangements are being put in place (the full details are not yet finalised) for JUSTICE, the Human Rights Group that has been engaged in a major programme of work relating to aspects of the development of the justice system, to host a new advisory group which will continue to have input to the Ministry of Justice.

The key topics on which the AJF reported were, in fact, issues which the former AJTC had done much to promote – for example,

  • the importance of ensuring that practice and procedure take users of tribunals fully into account;
  • the importance of Government departments learning from the outcomes of tribunal decisions, particularly where the may indicate operational practices that may need changing;
  • the importance of enduring that there was no excessive delay in arranging and delivering decisions.

What the AJF did not do was consider broader questions about how different parts of the administrative justice system – tribunals, ombudsmen, complaints procedures – might interact more efficiently.

From my perspective what the latest development shows is that trying to keep a clear overview of the whole of the administrative justice landscape is a daunting prospect, particularly at a time when the bulk of civil service resources have to be devoted to the modernisation programme currently under way. This overview has to come from outside government, led by those who can take a holistic view and who are not locked into any specific aspect of the system.

For the final report of the Administrative Justice Forum see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/administrative-justice-and-tribunals-final-progress-report

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 10, 2017 at 11:19 am

Prisons and Courts Bill 2017: new version awaited

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One of the casualties of the calling of the General Election in June 2017 was that the Prison and Courts Bill 2017 was lost – i.e. failed to complete its Parliamentary process.

I have noted in earlier blogs the key features of this important legislation, both in relation to the reform of the Prison Service and to the Civil Justice system. It also planned to deal with rules relating to whiplash injuries (see entries in Spotlight on the Justice System 8 March 2017.)

It is clear from announcements in the Queen’s speech – delivered in June 2017 – that the Bill will be introduced, not necessarily in the same form but with the same policy objectives in mind.

For the moment, therefore, plans are on hold (though civil servants are actively working on the assumption that eventually they will get the new legal powers they need to introduce the proposed reforms.)

I will give further details when the new Bill is published.