New bill must not undermine access to justice
The government must guard against the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill undermining access to justice.
On 5 August the Law Society hosted a Q&A event with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) which focused on the impact of COVID-19, the work that has been undertaken within the court service and the work that still needs to be addressed as part of the court recovery plan.
Thank you to our members who submitted their questions in advance and to those who asked questions during the event. We hope you found the event useful and we will be looking to host further events in the near future as things continue to develop.
The recorded event is now available to watch, and you can download the questions and responses below.
Before the Q&A event began Susan Acland Hood, CEO of HMCTS, gave an update on the impact coronavirus has had on the Courts and Tribunals Service. She commended everyone on how they have been able to come together in order to keep the system operating, including the openness of people in being able to work in new ways and trying different things.
She accepted there are valuable lessons to learn from how things have operated, and appreciates many things have been done that are emergency measures that you would never want to carry forward.
HMCTS has published an overarching plan regarding its response to COVID-19. This sets out what it did in response to the pandemic early on including prioritising, and continuing to hear, the most urgent cases and the ability to use audio and video technology.
HMCTS is now looking at its second phase which is the recovery of its operations. It wants to do more work at scale including trying to think creatively around the constraints that have arisen due to social distancing.
It has to consider both the court rooms themselves, the common areas and the entrances and exits. This has meant it cannot use all the physical space available in court as some spaces are too small to keep people distanced coupled with having to manage the flow of people around the court buildings.
This involves thinking differently about the existing buildings and trying to get in place physical modifications so that HMCTS can use as much of its space as possible. Susan stated that HMCTS accepts it is not there on that yet, there are still courts where it could be using more space and it is working each day to bring more courtrooms into use, and tracking this room by room, day by day.
It's also looking at other buildings it can use as courts which is important but probably not as important as the rooms in existing buildings. You can view the Law Society’s interactive map on the Nightingale Courts status.
HMCTS is looking at whether it can extend services in time as well as in space, and when it does have good and usable space, Susan states they want to use it for more of the day. This is what sits behind the proposals to test extended operating hours.
Another focus is how HMCTS can do things differently using audio and video technology and increasingly trying to put in better quality technology.
Around 9,000 laptops have been issued to HMCTS staff since the pandemic began. The vast majority of staff had worked from physical buildings using fixed technology and it was hard for them to work from home. The laptops have given them more flexibility and have allowed them to get back up to effective staffing.