Little confidence sweeping courts reforms can be delivered

20 July 2018

The Public Accounts Committee report says that any savings must be genuine and not the result of cost-shunting which builds pressure elsewhere.

£1.2 billion modernisation programme hugely ambitious

HM Courts & Tribunals Service’s £1.2 billion programme to modernise the courts is hugely ambitious and on a scale which has never been attempted anywhere before.

Transforming the courts and tribunals system in this way will change the way people access justice by digitising paper-based services, moving some types of cases online, introducing virtual hearings, closing courts and centralising customer services.

Such sweeping changes will be extremely challenging to deliver. The performance of HMCTS to date shows that it has much to learn if it intends to do everything it plans.

HMCTS already fallen behind

Despite extending its timetable from four to six years, HMCTS has already fallen behind, delivering only two-thirds of what it expected to at this stage, and it still has not shared a sufficiently well-developed plan of what it is trying to achieve.

The pressure to deliver quickly and make savings is limiting HMCTS’s ability to consult meaningfully with stakeholders and risks it driving forward changes before it fully understands the impact on users and the justice system more widely.

HMCTS needs to ensure that the savings expected from these reforms are genuine rather than the consequence of shunting costs to other parts of the justice system such as the police, prison service or Crown Prosecution Service all of which have their own pressures to manage.

Without a better grip on these wider issues, there is a significant risk that HCMTS will fail to deliver the benefits it expects.

Chair's comments

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Government has cut corners in its rush to push through these reforms. The timetable was unrealistic, consultation has been inadequate and, even now, HMCTS has not clearly explained what the changes will mean in practice.

Our report recommends action to address these failings. But even if this programme, or a version of it, gets back on track I have serious concerns about its unforeseen consequences for taxpayers, service users and justice more widely.

There is an old line in the medical profession—'the operation was successful but the patient died'.

It is difficult to see how these reforms could be called a success if the result is to undermine people’s access to justice and to pile further pressure on the police and other critical public services.

Government must engage properly with these challenges and explain how it will shepherd this programme through the upheaval taking place across the justice system.”

Further information

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