The court modernisation programme being undertaken by HMCTS is experiencing delays. This has been highlighted by a key report from the Public Accounts Committee.
The ambitious £1.2 billion project to bring access to justice is being led by HMCTS and they have already closed 127 courts since 2015, with a further 77 set to close in the next phase of the project.
Access to justice
The report highlighted that the court closures could alienate the most vulnerable members of society who aren’t able to readily access or understand the new online processes that are available. HMCTS has produced no formal evaluation on the impact of these closures on certain groups who can be especially disadvantaged, such as those who are disabled, or elderly or surviving on low incomes.
The chair of the committee commented:
“HMCTS must ensure that further reforms, particularly those that include closing more courts do not mean citizens lose access to justice which would undermine public confidence in the fairness of the justice system."
Delays to court modernisation
The report highlights delays to the project, with the additional year that had been allocated to finish the modernisation looking overoptimistic, given what has been achieved thus far.
The Public Accounts Committee has stated that it was “not convinced that it is possible for HMCTS to deliver everything promised in the current timeframe”.
The committee has requested that HMCTS outline proposed alternative arrangements for those parts of the project that look unlikely to be deliverable within the timeframe proposed. This should include projects that can be scrapped or re-scoped to be reduced or delayed if there are further additional pressures on HMCTS.
Ministry of Justice facing increased demand
The Ministry of Justice will face increasing demands, as the recruitment of 20,000 more police officers over the next three years will have an impact on workloads. The justice system will face increased pressure by way of a rise in prosecutions, court hearings and supervision of probation, and this needs factoring into the equation. The recommendation from the committee is that the Ministry should report to the committee on how it will maintain and improve services whilst juggling an increase in demand for the whole justice system.
The committee has produced a report, the summary of which can be viewed in full here.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance