Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘transformation of the justice system

Video Hearings Process Evaluation

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One of the many developments included in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Transformation programme is greater use of remote hearings. Two researchers at the London School of Economics were commissioned to make an independent evaluation of the use of remote hearings. Their findings were published on 29 July 2020.

The report examined the development, implementation, and user experience of the video hearings service and platform across four different hearing types in the civil, family, and tax jurisdictions: Set Aside Judgments, First Direction Appointments, Short Notice Hearings, and Basic Tax Appeals. These were issues which judges in the pilot centres (Birmingham and Manchester) thought suitable for remote hearings.

Methods involved a combination of observation, semi-structured interviews, and analysis of HMCTS documentation. However, the sample of hearings studied was small – just 23 in total.

Some of the research findings might have been predicted: some hearings were subject to technical glitches; judges did not have all the kit (especially a second screen) they would like; they probably needed some more training.

From my perspective, the most interesting findings of the research related to the user experience. The summary states:

Most users commented on the convenience of having a video hearing and the time and cost it saved them. Some users also reported reduced stress and anxiety due to being able to take part in a hearing from their home or from their solicitors office.

Legal professionals felt the cases selected for the pilot were appropriate and also recognised this option as a benefit for parties.

Users reported finding their video hearing easy, effective and straightforward. However, some recognised a challenge with communicating over video and felt that it might be difficult for people who are not familiar with or do not have
access to the suitable technology.

Users maintained the view that pre-hearing support was highly valuable and helped them navigate the technology on the day of their hearing. All users were highly satisfied with how the judge managed the hearing and the formality of the hearing.

Users who experienced technological issues did not report these as unmanageable and thought that judges dealt with any disruption effectively.

The cases used for this research were all dealt with pre-Covid-19. Since then the pace of change has increased and there has been a considerable rise in the numbers of cases being dealt with remotely. An evaluation of this new digital landscape will be published in due course.

While some may wish this, a return to the pre-Covid days is unlikely. A key challenge, however, will be to support those who find the technologies hard to manage; this has to be faced by those seeking to put more hearings on line.

The report, written by Meredith Rossner and Martha McCurdy, may be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmcts-video-hearings-process-evaluation-phase-2-final-report

 

Written by lwtmp

August 1, 2020 at 12:53 pm

Transformation of the Justice System: reports on the progress of the HMCTS reform programme

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It is a some time since I wrote about the great Transformation of the Justice system programme that was launched in 2016. It is quite a challenge to follow the progress of the reform programme. I thought it would be useful to bring together the principal documents which relate to the project which will fundamentally reshape the justice system for years to come.

  • The Transformation of the Justice system project was formally launched in a joint statement issued by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals in September 2016.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transforming-our-justice-system-joint-statement

Initially planned for completion in 2021, the end date is currently set back to December 2023, though many parts of the programme have been completed. The principal features the programme can be seen in the following diagram.

The PAC report resulted in six separate responses from the Government, details of which are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals. (see this blog 10 March 2019)

  • One issue, raised in both the above reports,  related to the adequacy of HMCTS engagement with stakeholders. HMCTS responded by commissioning an independent audit of stakeholder engagement which was published in October 2019. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmcts-stakeholder-perception-audit-report-2019. A further progress report on stakeholder engagement was published in January 2020. (It can be found by googling HMCTS Engaging with our external stakeholders 2020 which leads to a Report published in Jan 2020.)

This has not to date led to a further report from the Public Accounts Committee.

HMCTS issued a response to this report in the form of a Press Release, which is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-response-to-justice-select-committee-report-on-court-and-tribunal-reforms

I hope that this blog entry, listing key documents and reports relating to the transformation project will be useful for those wanting to get an overview of the project and its progress. I will endeavour to keep readers up with more specific developments as they occur. For the moment, many of these have become intertwined with arrangements that have been made to adjust the work of the courts and tribunals to the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (11): Civil Justice – results of the Civil Justice Council rapid survey

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As I have already noted here, Covid 19 has had a major impact on the ways in the courts are delivering their services. In particular, much attention has been directed towards the use of virtual or remote hearings – online paper hearings, hearings by phone and hearings by video.

The Civil Justice Council commissioned a rapid preliminary survey of how these new processes were working. The results of that survey were published in early June 2020. It was based on responses to a survey drawn from the experience of those involved in cases in a two-week period in early May 2020. The study was carried out by Dr Natalie Byrom of the Legal Education Foundation.

Obviously, such a survey can be no more than an initial glance at what is happening on the ground. Many of these preliminary findings are what might be expected:

  • many judges and practitioners were finding that they were getting on better with using new technologies than they might have anticipated;
  • they were coping despite a lack of advance training in the use of technologies;
  • the technologies themselves were often not as reliable as participants would like;
  • some types of hearing were more suited to remote hearings than others.

These are the sorts of issue that should be mitigated as all those involved in delivering new services  become better trained and more used to dealing with cases using the new technologies.

From a rather detailed report, four important points for the way ahead may be noted:.

  1. At present HMCTS does not have an effective way of capturing information details about what types of case are brought to court. For example, data is published on the numbers of possession proceedings brought by mortgage companies or landlords against residential occupiers (mostly for failure to meet payment obligations). But it is impossible to get any detailed information about the use of courts for other potential housing law issues. The report makes a strong plea that much greater effort should be made by HMCTS to identify the ‘data points’ which would provide a much more detailed picture of how the civil court system is functioning. Effective planning of future services cannot be provided without more detailed management information.
  2. There was a strong impression that video hearings were better suited for remote hearings that telephone hearings.
  3. There were inevitable concerns that litigants in person might be in difficulty using the new technologies unless adequate support was available.
  4. The survey was unable to capture what lay users of the system, in particular litigants in person, thought of these new developments. It was essential to fill this knowledge gap if the objective of HMCTS’ reforms – to provide services that users want and need – was to be met.

The survey report and related press release can be accessed at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/civil-justice-council-report-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-civil-court-users-published/

Further information about the Legal Education Foundation is at https://www.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/

 

Probate online: recent developments – a practitioner’s view

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The arrival of Covid 19, and the necessity of trying to keep the legal system functioning with locked-down courts, virtual hearings and the like has meant that other aspects of the justice system Transformation programme have perhaps been forgotten.

The latest edition  (July 2020) of the HMCTS blog, Inside HMCTS, reminds us that other things are also happening, designed to modernise and approve the efficiency of the services provided within the legal system.

One development which has been quietly worked on for a number of years is the creation of means to carry out probate – the process of dealing with a deceased person’s estate – online.

Historically it has been an extremely difficult process, surrounded by a lot of procedural and legalistic complexity.

The HMCTS reform programme included a plan to modernise the process, to make it more straightforward both for practitioners and individual members of the public. An online service has been available since the end of 2019. Around 60,000 members of the public have used the service. And increasing numbers of solicitors are also using the service.

Stephen Cobb, a solicitor with a firm of lawyers who were involved in developing and testing the new process, has written a very interesting account of how the new system works. He stresses that it is still work in progress and that the current system will not necessarily deal with every complex estate. But, for general use, he is impressed with how it works. And he likes the freedom it gives him to submit the bulk of the paperwork on line.

For details, see https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2020/06/05/reforming-probate-for-the-twenty-first-century/

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 11, 2020 at 10:09 am

Transformation of the justice system: money claims online

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In November 2018, HM Courts and Tribunals Service launched its money claim online service. On July 3 2020, it announced that a significant milestone had been reached in the use of this service, namely that, after 18 months, over 100,000 cases had gone through the new system.

The Government states:

The service aims to make it simpler and quicker for people to submit a claim, by allowing them to do so from their own home and removing complex legal language from the online application. Most people take less than 15 minutes to complete the initial claim form. Almost 9 in 10 people using the service have been satisfied or very satisfied with it, with claims now being issued in minutes, not days.

In many cases, this that means claims can be issued, responded to and settled without the need for third-party involvement.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/more-than-10000-civil-money-claims-issued-online

(The figure IS 100,000, not the 10,000 mentioned in the Press Release Heading!)

Written by lwtmp

July 4, 2020 at 11:03 am

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/

 

Transformation: Courts and Tribunals, 2022: HMCTS and MoJ respond to the Public Accounts Committee

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I noted in 2018 the critical report from the National Audit Office (see this blog June 2018) and the subsequent report (which I labelled ‘brutal’) from the Public Accounts Committee (see this blog October 2018) on the courts and tribunals transformation programme.

Well, now the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have come back with a series of replies, setting out the progress that has been made with the transformation programme, and setting out targets for the following 6 months.

Between November 2018 and February 2019, MoJ and HMCTS published no fewer than 6 reports, each one responding individually to the six principal criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee.

The most fundamental question is whether the timeframe for the delivery of the transformation programme is being adhered to. The report on Recommendation 1 – which deals with this question – acknowledges that parts of the programme have not yet been started while listing a substantial body of completed work.

Other responses deal with:

  • the impact of the transformation programme on users;
  • engagement with stakeholders;
  • the financial implications of the transformation programme on the wider justice system;
  • evaluating the impact of the reform programme on access to justice and the fairness of the justice system; and
  • balancing the portfolio of change projects to ensure that there is some flexibility and an ability to respond to financial pressures.

Interestingly, less than a month after the publication of the latest of these reports a Press Release in March stated that at least some aspects of the Transformation programme will not be completed until 2023. (See https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/breaking-hmcts-delays-1bn-courts-reform-by-a-year/5069501.article)

There is a lot of detail in the reports. They can be found by going to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/response-to-public-accounts-committee-transforming-courts-and-tribunals

This links to each of the six individual responses.

In January 2019, the Justice Select Committee announced that it too would be conducting an inquiry into the Courts and Tribunals Reform programme. See https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/court-and-tribunals-reform-inquiry-17-19/

It is right that such a major reform programme should be carefully scrutinised by MPs. They can help to ensure that the transformation, that I think is needed, is delivered.

 

 

 

 

The Victims Strategy – 2018

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In September 2018, the Government published its cross-government Victims Strategy. It sets out a criminal justice system wide response to improving the support offered to victims of crime and incorporates actions from all criminal justice agencies, including the police, CPS and courts.

It is divided into 5 key sections

  1. overarching commitments. These include:
  • Strengthening the Victims’ Code, and consulting on the detail of victim focused legislation, including strengthening the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, and delivering a Victims’ Law.
  • Holding agencies to account for compliance with the Victims’ Code through improved reporting, monitoring and transparency.
  • Developing the detail on the role of the Independent Public Advocate for bereaved families who have lost loved ones in extraordinary and tragic events.
  • Abolishing the rule which denied compensation for some victims who lived with their attacker prior to 1979 and consulting on further changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
  1. improving support for all victims of crime, whether or not they report the crime. This includes commitments to:
  • Increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020/21 to improve services and pathways for survivors and victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support to and from Sexual Assault Referral Centres.
  • Develop a new delivery model for victim support services, coordinating funding across government.
  • Expand and extend support available to families bereaved by homicide, including bringing in new funding for advocacy support for families bereaved by domestic homicide.
  • Spend £8 million on interventions to ensure support is available to children who witness domestic abuse.
  • Pilot the ‘Child House’ model in London, whereby multiple services are brought together in a child-friendly environment to minimise additional trauma.
  1. improving victim support after a crime has been reported. This includes commitments to:
  • Introduce improved police training, including new guidance on conducting interviews and collecting evidence, and a trial of body worn cameras to take Victim Personal Statements.
  • Increase the number of Registered Intermediaries, communication experts helping vulnerable victims and witnesses give their best evidence at police interview and at court, by 25%.
  • Increase opportunities for victims to engage in alternative solutions to court.
  • Improve overall victim communication, including when explaining decisions not to prosecute and on the right to review Crown Prosecution Service decisions.
  1. better support for victims during the court process. This includes commitments to:
  • Improve the court environment, with new victim-friendly waiting areas and a new court design guide focussing on accessibility for the most vulnerable.
  • Free up court time in the magistrates’ court by dealing with crimes with no identifiable victim (e.g. fare evasion) outside court hearings.
  • Continue to use video links to allow vulnerable victims to provide evidence away from the defendant and courtroom altogether.
  • Encourage take up of pre-trial therapy by launching new guidance and a toolkit for prosecutors and therapists.
  1. making sure victims understand a court’s decision, the implications for them, and for the offender. This includes commitments to:
  • Review and consider extending the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme so victims and the public can have sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.
  • Reform the Victim Contact Scheme, making it easier to opt in, introducing more frequent communication, and greater use of digital contact methods.
  • Improve Victim Liaison Officer training, especially in supporting victims during parole hearings and in making a Victim Personal Statement.
  • Review and consider whether any improvements need to be made to entitlements for victims of mentally disordered offenders.

This is substantial agenda of what seem to me to be good ideas. Some of them can be implemented quickly. Others will take more time. What is therefore also needed is a committment to publish progress reports which show how these initiatives are developing throughout the country.

Source: Adapted from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/victims-strategy/victims-strategy-html-version where the full text of the strategy statement can be found.

Transforming civil justice: current projects – progress reports

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In the civil jurisdiction, existing processes can be protracted, inefficient and costly. The Government’s aim is to create a system that enables people to manage and resolve a dispute fairly and speedily.

  • This will involve more mediation and fewer hearings.
  • It will involve simpler processes and online routes into and through the courts – providing good quality digital systems to support the civil system, which at present is very paper-heavy, and allowing the kind of digital working in civil courts that legal professionals and others have become used to in the criminal court.

Initial focus is on those proceedings that most often engage the civil courts, in particular the county court – money claims and possession claims. In addition there is an important infrastructural programme to enable the High Court to function more efficiently. In a little more detail:

1. Online Civil Money Claims:
This project started by developing a digital service that allows users to resolve civil money claims in a simple, accessible and proportionate way.
In August 2017, HMCTS launched a controlled test where users were invited to use
the new online service and by March 2018, 1,500 claimants issued claims within it. Over 80% of those users, including claimants and defendants, told us the service was very good and easy to use.
Further evidence suggests that the online system has improved access to justice, with engagement from defendants being higher than in the traditional civil money claims service.
HMTCS used feedback to keep improving the service, and opened it up to all users
on 26 March 2018. As well as allowing issue and defence of claim, the system allows without-prejudice offers to be made and accepted (and constructs agreements based on these offers and acceptances).
90% of users of the service since March have been satisfied or extremely satisfied with the new service.
The service is accessed at https://www.gov.uk/make-money-claim
A version of the system designed to support legal professionals who are managing multiple claims on behalf of their clients, is currently being tested with 10 firms. This should be  rolled out later in 2018.
Next steps will be to build further stages of the system, allowing more online negotiation
and settlement; upload of evidence; giving judges the facility to decide cases ‘on the digital papers’ but also to ask questions and seek clarification from parties; as well as providing the digital underpinnings for cases going to and through hearings.
2. Possession
The assured shorthold tenancy possession claim process will be made digital. As a first step, administrative processes will be improved, automated and streamlined to make them more efficient and reliable. The project will start formally in October 2018.
3. The Royal Courts of Justice
This project aims to deliver a digital case management system for the civil jurisdictions of the High Court and Court of Appeal, Upper Tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Regional Business and Property Courts and District Registries.
As with the county court jurisdiction this will enable claims to be issued and responded to and cases managed by the court digitally. The project will also improve the hearing stage of the service by enabling evidence and e-bundles to be uploaded and shared
digitally and presented digitally at hearings. The project began in June 2018 and aims to deliver the new case management system to 2 of the jurisdictions this year.
A fourth project, on enforcement of judgements, has been put on hold.
This information has been derived and adapted from Reform Update Autumn 2018, published by HMCTS, and available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

Transformation: Court and Tribunals 2022 – progress reports

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I have observed before that it is quite hard for someone outside HM Court and Tribunal Service to keep up to date with progress with the Transforming our Justice System, now Transformation Courts and Tribunals 2022, reform programme.

For some time there has been an occasional blog, setting out information about a number of initiatives.

In recent months, a monthly Bulletin (also called an electronic Newsletter) has been launched, the latest of which, published on 1 Oct  2018 contains links to a detailed report Reform Update, Autun 2018, setting out the story so far.

The transformation programme is a very substantial one – it consists of some 50 projects. Not all of them have yet started and very few have as yet been completed. Many ideas are, quite rightly, being tested and evaluated before being nationally rolled out.

The easiest way to get an overview of the projects and their progress is to look at the summary table of the report (pp 22-26).

I will be adding further detail on these projects, dividing the information into broad subject headings.

The monthly bulletin can be accessed by clicking on the link under the heading Newsletter at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-reform-programme.

The Reform Update report can be seen at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/744235/Reform_Update_issue_2_September_2018.pdf

The Inside HMCTS blog can be accessed at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/