‘I don’t think we’ve listened enough,’ says head of courts

The head of the court service has promised to consult more widely about the court reform programme. ‘I don’t think we’ve listened enough, or given enough ways for people who care about the system and how it works to help shape its improvement,’ wrote HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood yesterday in the first of a series of planned blogs (HERE).

The first blog focused on her observations of the ‘strength and value’ of courts and tribunals as well as ‘the deep challenges it faces and the reasons why I believe only radical reform can make it flourish for the future’.

In particular, Acland-Hood wrote about ‘poor IT, staffing that doesn’t match the demands of what they are asked to do and tired, dispiriting buildings’, and a system that felt ‘long, slow and complex even in simple matters… hampered by creaking paper processes that are hugely labour intensive, meaning other things suffer and errors multiply when staff are short’. ‘At worst, these things can make us look indifferent to other people’s time and trouble,’ she said.

She argued that the the courts were ‘reaching the limit of the change we can make by good people in local courts working harder and trying harder’.

Acland-Hood flagged up two ‘contested’ parts of the reform programme, court closures and online courts. She claimed to be ‘acutely conscious’ of ‘many people working in the system who haven’t seen or discussed the wider plans for HMCTS reform, or had a chance to shape them’.

‘Indeed, the recent debates on flexible operating hours made it clear that many people thought it was the main, or even the only, change we were proposing to make – and that we were focusing on that to the exclusion of all the rest,’ she continued. ‘That debate has shown me that we need to do better at inviting and then listening to debate on the more difficult elements of reform, but also to do better at explaining the rest and inviting suggestions and contributions, so that people do not mistake level of controversy for level of importance.’

Before the summer break Acland-Hood delivered a robust defence of the flexible courts pilot. ‘We have heard from some that moving to a more flexible system, if well managed, could offer more opportunities for those with childcare and other caring responsibilities and that, by enabling legal professionals to work more effectively – accessing and progressing cases in a different way and at different times of the day – we would reduce the need to travel or wait around at court for hours,’ she wrote. ‘Others, however, have argued that such a change might increase the unpredictability of workloads and so have the reverse effect.’



About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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