There have been warnings from senior figures regarding the £1bn court modernisation that is now well underway. The concerns come from judges, police and lawyers and a justice select committee is conducting an inquiry into the implications of the reforms.

With court closures meaning that people have to travel further to access their local court since 2010 more than 250 courts in England and Wales have closed.

Court closures

  • 162 magistrates’ courts closed, out of 323 (50%)
  • 150 constituencies contained a magistrates’ court which closed, with 12 constituencies containing 2 courts which closed
  • The sale of court buildings raised around £223 million to the public purse
  • The South East saw the most magistrates’ court closures (25), followed by Wales and the North West (22 each)

Concerns that cost saving will be prioritised

The concerns largely centre around the drive for efficiency over access to justice and that digital access will become the norm with those unable for whatever reason to access justice this way losing out.

The overall feeling is that progress should be made in line with evidence that it is working before further steps are taken. The Law Society has commented “The society does not believe it is an acceptable position to close courts before the technology that is intended to replace the need for physical hearings has been tested, evaluated and proven to work.”

Judges have also commented on the inadequate wi-fi in some courts meaning that the technology necessary for remote video linking cannot be facilitated.

Civil Justice modernisation

Civil justice has largely benefited from the money claims online, however, research into Civil Enforcement by the HMCTS Public Accounts Committee identified that high numbers of County Court Judgements were caused by poor address data for the defendant.

HMCTS investigated different ways to address this while still maintaining the defendant’s privacy. More accurate address data can be shared by HM Revenue & Customs and the user can select to use this address, known by government, for this person (the address is not revealed) instead of entering one manually themselves. This reduces the error rate and there is a higher chance the defendant receives the information.

Over the next six months, a mediation pilot for money claims will be launched, there will be an opt out for claims of up to £300 in value.

It is pilots such as these that will need to be closely monitored and fully reported on so that if there are benefits they can be implemented properly.

Further reading

Public Accounts Committee response recommendation 1

Public Accounts Committee response recommendation 2

Public Accounts Committee response recommendation 4

Public Accounts Committee response recommendation 5

This guest article was written by Luke Cockerton at DCA Business Recovery.

David Asker

David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance

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