Court modernisation programme is delayed again

February 28, 2024

Court modernisation programme is delayed again

These days law firms are fully au fait with how technology can improve the way they operate. If they hadn’t fully embraced the benefits of IT before Covid came along, they certainly have now.

So it must be somewhat frustrating for the profession to see the slow pace of progress by HM Courts & Tribunals Service when it comes to its courts modernisation programme, which has previously come under fire from MPs for being over-budget and poorly managed.

Now HMCTS’s chief executive Nick Goodwin has revealed that its modernisation reforms will be extended yet again, and scaled back.

The completion date for all development for the overall programme has been extended for another year, from March 2024 to March 2025; while implementation activity will continue throughout 2025 for civil reform.

The court modernisation project had originally been due to be completed in 2020.

In the criminal law, HMCTS has revised its plans for delivering additional functionality in its flagship ‘Common Platform’, the principal case management system in the criminal courts.

Meanwhile in civil and family private law, Goodwin reported that HMCTS’s plans still include digitising warrants of control to enforce County Court judgments, which will be issued using the new Online Civil Money Claims service, similar to the legacy Money Claims On Line service. But he said that all other civil enforcement changes will be removed from its plans.

Explaining the decision to delay and revise its plans, Goodwin said:

‘These changes will allow us to get the technology right, to integrate systems, and give ourselves and our partners the time needed to adjust to new ways of working.’

He added: ‘Working alongside our justice partners, we’ve made significant progress towards the vision for reform we set out in 2016. Our core principles – to be just, proportionate and accessible – have always underpinned our work.

‘We’ve continued to successfully modernise 14 services and have received over 2.4 million digital applications since 2019. Satisfaction scores from those using our services remain high.

‘We’ve installed video technology to the majority of courtrooms, improved the user experience by creating five new service centres and introduced Common Platform to all criminal courts so that case information can be managed and shared more effectively.

‘I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved together and the positive outcomes for our users. Our priority now is to ensure a stable operational environment in which we continue to improve at a steady pace.’

Goodwin added: ‘We’ve looked at our organisational capacity and pressures on our operations and heard feedback from our staff and partners. We’ve taken account of the challenging operating environment. We’ve considered wider pressures, such as long-lasting impacts of the pandemic, number of outstanding cases and the rising cost of living – all affect us as an organisation.

‘As a result, we now need to adjust our plans, particularly for some aspects of the Reform Programme, which was originally scoped at a time when caseloads were lower. The choices we’re making now will maximise efficiency and functionality of our technology.

‘This will help us to provide a more consistent and reliable service to those seeking access to justice through our courts and tribunals, as well as stabilise the experience for all those who use our systems.’

Goodwin also commented on developments in relation to the court estate – a topic close to the heart of lawyers all too familiar with the decrepit state of court buildings. Here, HMCTS had some positive news to report.

As part of a £220 million funding package to enhance its maintenance programme between 2023 and 2025, the courts service is carrying out more than 200 improvement projects across England and Wales.

Work should be completed this spring on a newly refurbished site in Leeds city centre which will include new employment tribunal rooms, as well as Business and Property Court hearing rooms.

Meanwhile the construction of the City of London’s state-of-the art courthouse, comprising civil, magistrates’ and Crown courtrooms, is apparently also ‘well underway’.

For lawyers and their clients who have been putting up with poor facilities for far too long, improvements cannot come soon enough.

February 28, 2024