HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has written to MPs on the influential Public Accounts Committee to explain that it hasn’t hit 25% of its transformation targets for the first half of 2019. The £1.2 billion courts and tribunals transformation programme was heavily criticised by the Committee in a report last year, where Chair Meg Hillier MP said that the “timetable was unrealistic” and that “consultation has been inadequate”.
By March 2023, HMCTS has said that it expects that 2.4 million cases per year will be dealt with outside physical courtrooms and that it will employ 5,000 fewer staff. It expects that by introducing new technologies and by modernising processes it will save £265 million a year.
Following the release of the Committee’s report in July 2018, it was agreed that HM Courts & Tribunals Service would update MPs regularly on its key milestones for the coming months and whether or not these had been achieved.
In January it set out 15 new milestones to be delivered by July 2019, for which it would be measured against. It has met 11 of these 15 milestones during the period.
In addition to this, HMCTS has laid out seven new or continuing commitment areas for the next period, which it will report back on in May 2020.
Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Sir Richard Heaton, has also written to the Committee to inform MPs that an external advisory panel, made up of academics and experts in the criminal, civil, family and tribunal jurisdictions, has been set up to evaluate the transformation programme’s progress.
As noted above, HMCTS missed four out of the 11 milestone commitments for the first half of the year. The commitments that have not been met include a Civil Money Claims mediation ‘opt out’ pilot for cases up to £300, user satisfaction for the Single Justice Procedure online plea, video hearings in the Civil and Family jurisdictions, and piloting Flexible Operating Hours at Brentford County Corp and Manchester Civil Justice Centre.
The targets that HMCTS did meet include areas such as stakeholder engagement, a career transition support service, introducing a common platform for crime and an end-to-end journey for probate service personal applicants.
And looking forward to May 2020, HMCTS has included some new commitments that it will have to report back to the Committee on. Some of these include a national, fully digital end-to-end system for the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, a national digital journey for Family Public Law, the replacement of the legacy Employment Tribunal IT system with a new digital system, amongst others.
An expert panel
As noted above, one of the primary criticisms from the Public Accounts Committee report was that government consultation had been “inadequate”.
In response, Permanent Secretary Richard Heaton has written to the Committee explaining that HMCTS has established an expert panel that will “provide independent advice to Ministers on the evaluation methodology and approaches to data analysis, including advising on what should be within and outside the scope of this evaluation”.
The panel met for the first time on 22nd May and intends to meet two or three times a year at key stages of HMCTS’s work.
Sir Heaton said:
We are currently finalising the details of our evaluation approach. So far, in designing our approach to the evaluation, we have drawn heavily on recommendations from your Committee’s report on the reform programme.
For example, through focusing on vulnerable people, as well as those with limited digital capability and litigants in person, by exploring opportunities to engage with the legal profession as part of the evaluation, and conducting impact evaluations on projects that contains the key themes of reform.
The full letter and the updates to the project’s commitments and milestones can be found here.