Courts reform ‘over-ambitious and rushed’

20 Jul 18

The government has “cut corners” in its plans to modernise courts, MPs have said.

A £1.2bn programme to modernise the Courts & Tribunals Service is “hugely ambitious” according to the Public Accounts Committee, which expressed doubt over whether the modernisation could be delivered.

The programme aims to reform the system by digitising paper-based services, moving some types of cases online, introducing virtual hearings, closing courts and centralising customer services.

But the PAC report, out today, said despite extending its timetable to roll out plans from four to six years, the courts service has already fallen behind, delivering just two-thirds of what it expected to at this stage.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “Government has cut corners in its rush to push through these reforms.

“The timetable was unrealistic, consultation has been inadequate and, even now [the Courts & Tribunals Service] has not clearly explained what changes will mean in practice.”

The report said the Ministry of Justice still does not understand the financial implications of its planned changes on the wider justice system.

The courts service expects to save £265m annually due to the changes, the PAC report said, but changes will impact finances elsewhere.

Video hearings, for instance, which will lead to ‘cost-shunting’ to other organisations like the prison service and police that will have to invest in new equipment, the committee warned.

Today’s report also said the courts service was unable to explain what the transformed justice system would look like and how it would measure whether the changes had been delivered successfully.

Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HMCTS, said: “This is a challenging programme but we remain confident that it is on track to deliver the benefits promised and to help create a better, more straightforward, accessible and efficient justice system for all who use and need it.” 

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