Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘tribunal reform

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=

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Transforming the Justice System: the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017

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Enromous changes to the ways in which courts – both criminal and civil – and tribunals operate have already been foreshadowed in a number of policy documents published during 2016. Parts 2 to 4 of the Prisons and Courts Bill contain provisions that will give statutory authority to the changes that have been proposed.

The headline provisions may be set out as follows:

Part 2 creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters.

It makes changes to court procedures in the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to make processes and case management more efficient.

It allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure.

It extends the use of live audio and video links, and ‘virtual’ hearings where no parties are present in the court room but attend by telephone or video conferencing facilities.

It makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually (by the streaming of hearings), including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse, for example by recording such stramed hearings.

It creates a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions.

It bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses  – in particular those who have been the subject of domestic abuse – in certain family cases.

It confers the power to make procedure rules for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the Tribunal Procedure Committee and extends the membership of the Committee to include an employment law practitioner and judge or non-legal member.

 

Part 3 contains measures relating to the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals.

It extends the role of court and tribunal staff authorised to exercise judicial functions giving the relevant procedure rules committees the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions.

It abolishes local justice areas, enabling magistrates to be appointed on a national basis, not just to a specific local justice area.

It replaces statutory declarations with statements of truth in certain traffic and air quality enforcement proceedings.

It makes reforms to the arrangements for the composition of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

It enables the High Court to make attachment of earnings orders for the recovery of money due under a judgment debt, as far as practicable, on the same basis as in the County Court.

Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission.

It enables more flexible deployment of judges by enabling them to sit in different jurisdictions.

It brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals – currently undertaken by the Secretary of State for Employment – under the remit of the Lord Chancellor.

It rationlises the roles of  judges in leadership positions who will support a reformed courts and tribunals system. (This includes provision to abolish the statutory post of Justice Clerk; this role will continue, but those qualified to be Clerks will also be able to undertake analogous work in other court/tribunal contexts.)

It  gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work (not directly related to judicials appointments) on a cost-recovery basis.

Source, Explanatory Notes to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, available at https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en02.htm

Transforming the English Legal System: Administrative Justice

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The Consultation Paper, Transforming our Justice System also has important proposals to make about the tribunals system, though – because the creation of the Tribunals Service in 2007 has already led to considerable structural change – changes to tribunals will be less marked than to the the criminal and civil justice systems.
The Paper states that in line with their principles of a just, proportionate and accessible system, the Government is planning on the following:
i. Streamlining procedures and encouraging a balanced approach: We are
working to simplify our procedures and put entire services online where
possible, carefully designed to be intuitive and easy to follow. Many relatively
straightforward tribunal decisions do not require full physical hearings, so where
appropriate, judges will be making decisions based on written representations,
hearings will be held over telephone or video conference and specially trained
case officers will help cases progress through the system. All of these changes
will make the process quicker and easier to deal with for all parties involved in a
case.
ii. Digitising the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal: This will be one of the
first services to be moved entirely online, with an end-to-end digital process that
will be faster and easier to use for people that use it.
iii. Simplifying panel composition: Another factor in taking a balanced, tailored
approach to tribunal cases is making sure the panels that make decisions in
tribunals are designed to best suit the circumstances of the case. Most tribunals
currently reflect historic arrangements that may be out of date and do not tailor
the expertise of the panel according to the case. We propose to revise the
current arrangements for setting panel composition to make sure that that
appropriate expertise is focussed on those cases that need it. We would
welcome views on how best to achieve this.
iv. Reforming employment tribunals: The Employment Tribunals deal with a huge
volume of claims every year – c. 83,000 in 2015/16. They work on similar
principles to many other tribunals and the civil courts, but currently have an
entirely separate structure, including a specific appeals tribunal. We are
considering whether the new approaches being adopted elsewhere in the
justice system could be applied to the employment jurisdiction.

 

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Transforming the English Legal System

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September 2016 saw the publication of an extremely important Consultation Paper, which sets out ideas on how the courts and tribunals system in England and Wales should be reformed.

Its proposals are based on three principles, that the reformed system should be proportionate, accessible and just.

The Paper states:

To deliver a system that is proportionate and tailored for the complexity and
seriousness of individual cases, [the Government is] taking a consistent approach across jurisdictions [i.e., criminal, administrative, family and civil], including:
i. More use of case officers for routine tasks: Judges spend too much of their time
dealing with uncontroversial, routine or straightforward matters which could just as
effectively be dealt with by court staff under judicial authorisation. Where it is
appropriate, specially trained staff will be able to carry out some of this work to
help justice move faster.
ii. More decisions made “on the papers”: Where a case is relatively straightforward or
routine, representations will be made online in writing for a judge to consider
outside of a traditional court room, without the need for a physical hearing,
meaning a more convenient experience for everyone involved.
iii. More virtual hearings: Where a judge needs to listen to the parties make their
arguments, it will be possible in many cases to hold the hearings over telephone or
video conference, without the need for the parties to travel to a court building.
There will still be an important place for physical court hearings for criminal trials
and other serious or complex cases, but where they are appropriate, virtual
hearings offer an easy and convenient alternative for everybody.
iv. More cases resolved out of court: In appropriate cases, we will encourage parties
to settle their disputes themselves, without the intervention of the courts.
The Government wants to make legal processes more accessible and easier for to use, with many  services moving online – for example:
i. Putting probate applications online: Dealing with probate affairs can be difficult and
complicated at a time when people are often coping with bereavement. We are
digitising the probate system to allow the entire process to be managed online,
from application to resolution, making it an easier and faster process when cases
are uncontested.
ii. Managing divorce online: Work has already begun to allow divorce applications to
be made and managed online, removing some of the bureaucracy from often
stressful and lengthy proceedings and simplifying cumbersome administrative
processes.
iii. Digitising applications for Lasting Powers of Attorney: Allowing people to make
arrangements for a time in the future when they may not be able to make
decisions by themselves is a helpful but often emotionally stressful process.
Applications have been partially digitised since 2014, resulting in fewer application
forms being returned because of errors. We will build on this by making the system
fully digital to deliver a quicker service.
Across the board, the Government wants to simplify forms and make processes more
straightforward so they are easier for everyone to understand. Many of these changes are designed to bring the justice system up to date for the modern world and take advantage of advances in technology to provide a faster,more accessible service for users of the courts and tribunals.
It is important, however, any unintended effects of this technology are taken into account to make sure that the system remains just. Thus the Government intends to:
i. Provide a system that works for everyone: Digital and online processes are easy
and efficient for many people, but the justice system must also work for people
who do not or cannot access services online. We must provide an alternative route
of access for every service that moves online. ..
ii. Continue to ensure open justice: It is a core principle of our justice system that
justice is open. “It is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental
importance that justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and
undoubtedly seen to be done,” as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in 1924. The
principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and
hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable.
Most of these changes build on initiatives that are already underway. What is important about this new Consultation Paper is that it is being jointly promoted by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals.
I set out in separate blog items the sections of the Paper on each of the different parts of the justice system.
The paper is not open for consultation for long. To read the paper and find the questions to which the government is seeking answers go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 9:31 am