The MoJ Response to Public Accounts Committee: Transforming courts and tribunals
Published 28/02/2019 by Romauld Johnson
The MoJ has responded to the Public Accounts Committee queries and confirmed that more than half of their allocated budget for court modernisation has been spent. Additionally, an advisory panel is to be created by this spring,including academics and lawyers who have practical experience of the new-look justice system. Further research will be commissioned by the end of summer 2019.
Last year, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) questioned the ability of HMCTS to deliver its court reform programme saying the pressure to deliver quickly risks driving changes before fully understanding the impact on users and the wider justice system, the MoJ has published their responses to these questions.
The response comes as the Justice Committee inquiry calls for evidence on the implications of the court reform programme.
HMCTS said they have fully completed 20 of 23 milestones as of January 2019 which included the implementation of four new digital services and two new private beta services.
In their response, they accept that the Reform programme is ambitious and challenging. However, they indicated that they remain committed to expanding the scope of their digital services and developing new projects. The response indicates their plans for the next six months and suggests that the next stage of the programme should end in May 2020.
HMCTS has asserted that the reforms won’t impact the independence of the judiciary nor access to justice. Physical hearings and face-to-face interactions will remain critical to the administration of justice but the focus will be on providing a better overall experience to users of the justice system.
Recommendation 3: Publish plans on how and when it will engage with stakeholders
HMCTS outlined seven categories of stakeholders they are in contact and collaborate with. These include the public court users, legal professionals, justice partners, Parliament, influencers and legal sector experts, suppliers and other government departments. In their response, they have reduced their engagement to three strands: Communication, Dialogue and Collaboration. The response outlines how each strand operates as well as set out future plans for stakeholder engagement this year, which ranges from developing greater
understanding of perceptions and needs, to extending the reach of their engagement.
HMCTS said that their approach to evaluating, assessing and reviewing the reform is multi-tiered. It begins with an overarching evaluation of the key objectives of fairness and accessibility and the use of performance information and shareable data on impact. There is also monitoring of high impact and/ or high-profile reforms once implemented and regular reviewing of the costs of the reform programme and the savings it generates against the approved business case. They assert that their use of phased implementation of changes allowed for re-designed services to be tested in practice and any emerging issues rapidly to be addressed.
HMCTS maintain they have adopted a collaborative approach. For example, the discovery phase of the Crime Programme, they undertook consultations with key partners and agencies and stakeholder groups and the proposals which resulted were transparent to the Judiciary and justice partners which provided them with opportunities to give feedback, shape and to influence the future design.
In their Civil, Family and Tribunal Model, there is a tri-lateral group with MoJ policy and the Welsh Government to provide a better overall vision for the delivery of service provision. The approach will provide a view of impacts across agencies and will enable the MoJ to understand the implementation costs and benefits required by each agency split by fiscal year.
In turn, this will allow the Department, working with the Treasury, to determine the best funding model to ensure that costs are properly distributed and to prevent ‘cost shunting’.
Recommendation 6: How it plans to ensure its portfolio of change is well-balanced and appropriately prioritised to enable it respond to financial pressures.
There was not a specific response published to this recommendation nor a reason given for the absence of a separate response.