Rushed reforms put strain on courts

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) reflects our concerns about the timescales the government has set itself on court reform.

The court reform programme was launched in 2016 and is due to officially wrap up by December 2023.

The NAO report reflects our concerns that hasty reforms are increasing the burden on courts which are already under pressure to reduce a huge backlog of cases.

We’re calling on HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to:

  • update its timelines, to ensure these are realistic and achievable
  • test new technology thoroughly before rolling it out
  • be transparent on how well individual projects are working
  • confirm funding for these projects will be continued and sustainable

Otherwise, any benefits of the reforms will be undermined.

Read the report

Our work with the NAO

We’re pleased to see the views and experiences of our members reflected in the report.

As part of the NAO's research, our members took part in focus groups covering criminal, civil and family jurisdictions.

Our view

While we support the reform programme and agree a modernised court service would benefit all users, this must not come at the expense of justice.

Ineffective reforms ultimately cost more time and money.

Read our five-point plan to fix the chaos in our courts

Realistic timelines

We’re concerned about the speed and number of changes of the reform programme, while the courts are also under pressure to tackle a huge backlog.

Despite increasing the programme’s budget by around 10% in 2021, the NAO report reveals that HMCTS does not expect to meet the December 2023 deadline.

Rather than rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline and risking more issues, HMCTS needs to:

  • extend the timeline for programme
  • adjust completion dates for ongoing projects to be realistic and achievable

Testing technology

New technology should only be fully implemented once it has been robustly tested, evaluated and proven to work.

For example, the new Common Platform was rolled out before it was ready and properly tested, adding extra strain to the courts.

The NAO report also reveals that between June 2021 and August 2022, HMCTS found that due to the faulty technology 35 individuals were not fitted with an electronic monitoring tag when they should have been.

“This is a striking real-world example of how introducing a new system before it is ready introduces risks to the wider criminal justice system,” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.

It’s important that HMCTS continues to engage and consult court users on reforms as they’re developed and tested.

Transparency on how reforms are working

The NAO is right to recommend HMCTS seeks to better understand how efficiently reformed services are working in practice.

It’s important that HMCTS shares information on:

  • all individual projects, in a centralised format
  • the overall progress of the reform programme

The Ministry of Justice had committed to publishing interim evaluation report on progress in December 2022. 

We’re awaiting an update on when this will be published.

Next steps

We’re keen to keep engaging with HMCTS on all stages of its reform programme and have welcomed its efforts to improve engagement with stakeholders.

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