Emily Weidner, Law Society policy advisor for modernising justice, provides an update on the latest from the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) court reform programme.
Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill
On 14 May, the House of Lords gave the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill a second reading.
The Bill is to provide for online procedures in the courts and tribunals system. This may help resolve cases earlier and more efficiently, which could reduce costs for both parties.
If it becomes law, the Bill will set up a judicially chaired committee tasked with developing new, simplified rules around services in civil, family and tribunal proceedings.
The Law Society are concerned that making procedures digital will not wholly compensate for the underinvestment in our physical courts and tribunal estates and processes, which has led to IT failures and delays to cases.
Ministry of Justice outlines its plans for transforming courts and tribunals
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published its long-awaited response to the 2018 consultation ‘Fit for the future’ which looked at its approach to reforming the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales.
The 2018 consultation received more than 200 responses.
The largest response was about travel time to and from court. The MoJ had proposed users should be able to attend court on time and return “within a day”, but many felt this benchmark “lacked specificity”.
The MoJ plans to conduct “real-world” travel time assessments with software that aggregates real journey times relevant to the time of day.
It also said that it will not make proposals to close a court until there is “sufficient evidence” that rationalising the court estate will work.
Law Society feed back to the Justice Select Committee
On 21 May, Richard Miller, Head of Justice at the Law Society, gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee as part of their inquiry into the HMCTS court reform programme.
As part of a panel focusing on civil courts and tribunals, Richard Miller set out a number of our concerns, including the digitisation of the existing system which had not been implemented smoothly with problems present in probate and in the family courts.
He added that we have significant concerns about the closure of civils courts, flexible operating hours and certain elements of the civil online application processes.