HMCTS not focused on fairness in on-line court reforms

20 July 2018

Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar said: "Today's report from the Public Accounts Committee endorses many of the concerns raised by the Bar Council about the HMCTS programme of modernisation and reform, and underlines their importance.

READ THE BAR COUNCIL'S WRITTEN EVIDENCE HERE

"There is much in this programme that may deliver real benefits if it is done properly, and we welcome that warmly.  Modernising our courts and tribunals, partly through digitisation and better use of existing and new technologies, is urgent and vital work.  But HMCTS must not allow ambition to run too far ahead of what can actually be achieved and delivered.

"Modernisation and reform also needs to be carried out in the right way, with proper prior research, consultation and evaluation, and a clear vision and understanding about the aims, effects and implications of the changes.  The failure to do this from the outset is a troubling reminder of the Ministry of Justice's failure under successive Governments to recognise and assess the knock on costs for others (even for the courts) of cutting legal aid.

"HMCTS has increased its efforts to engage with legal practitioners, but we are still a long way from achieving real and effective consultation on the most important strands of work.  As today's PAC report explains, engagement with the Bar has been fraught with practical difficulties of HMCTS's making, and too often barristers and the Bar Council have wasted the valuable time that they are being asked to give to this (entirely at their own expense).

"We are also not satisfied that sufficient attention is being paid to the implications that digitising legal processes, and the widespread use of video technology, may have for justice and fairness in every case.  This must include ensuring that independent legal advice is received when it is needed most, especially before individuals make decisions that may have important implications, such as before indicating a likely plea when you are charged with a criminal offence.  HMCTS has been reluctant to address this issue, as the availability of legal advice is not part of its design brief.

"Outside HMCTS, there is a perception of too much focus on technical feasibility, efficiency and cost savings at the expense of taking full and proper account of the outcomes and implications for real people coming into contact with the legal system.  We must not prioritise the feasible over what is desirable and just.  If the perception is wrong, then it shows just how much further HMCTS has to go to communicate what it is doing."

ENDS

Notes to Editors 

  1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

  2. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board