Westminster Legal Policy Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
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Next steps for court modernisation - new technology and working practices, the shift to virtual courtrooms, and ensuring access to justice

Morning, Wednesday, 13th January 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will discuss the next steps for court modernisation.

Areas for discussion include introduction of new technology and working practices as part of the government’s court reform programme, virtual courtrooms, ensuring access to justice, and the handling of data.

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the MOJ; the CPS; the Government Legal Department; Home Office; and the Law Commission of England and Wales.

Areas for discussion:

  • progress and prospects for modernisation - with sessions examining:
    • what has been achieved - the current state of the programme of court reform
    • what more is needed - to achieve the technological and cultural change necessary to modernise the justice system and achieve the required savings by the MOJ’s December 2023 target
  • the value of reform - looking at implementation of recommendations from the NAO progress report on the HMCTS courts and tribunals reform programme, including:
    • analysis - whether there has been a clear assessment on the benefits that have been achieved following increased investment in the courts system
    • measurement - if the way that Government assesses the benefits of reform has clearly demonstrated where savings are coming from
  • remote judicial proceedings - with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing a closure of court buildings and accelerating the introduction of alternative ways of delivering court service:
    • nightingale courts - assessing their use during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of increased investment in technological improvements to keep courts running through the pandemic
    • uptake - in new technologies and their impact, such as an increased use of video hearings, and implementation of new technology being extended to civil and family courts
    • fair and just? - delegates will consider how to make remote hearings work to ensure due process, including for:
      • those who require intermediaries - provision of support prior to and after the hearing difficulties
      • non-verbal evidence - particularly for virtual jury trials, the ability of the court to assess body language and other aspects of witness demeanour, or to physically examine exhibits
      • people with disabilities - with the EHRC’s concerns regarding inclusive justice what needs to be done to ensure clear communication for all, including sharing of data
      • digital exclusion - how to ensure that access to justice takes account of unfamiliarity with the justice system or lack of access to digital technology
  • impact on the workforce - new technology and new skills:
    • judicial delegation - with court closures and new ways of working aimed at delivering budgetary savings, implications of non-judicial staff being authorised to complete routine work currently done by judges, such as applications to extend time for compliance with an order when there is no risk to the trial date, or uncontested special measures applications
    • enabling the workforce to adapt - with a more flexible and diverse workforce doing different roles using new skills:
      • what will be the impact of this on the judicial workforce
      • how can benefits of new ways of working and automated processes be maximised while also supporting and re-orienting staff whose jobs are changing as a result 
  • data - priorities for developing robust systems for capturing data in order to review the operation of the justice system and build the evidence base for effective practice:
    • safeguarding judicial processes - with a move towards more automated judicial decision making and increased private sector involvement in dispute resolution
    • data protection - assessing the measures needed for data security and transparency in a judicial context, and next steps for policy and implementation

The background at a glance:

  • The HMCTS reform programme:
    • the government £1bn programme of court reform, aiming to bring new technology and modern ways of working to the way justice is administered, including
    • the recent roll out of the £280m Common Platform digital case management system which is designed to digitally provide all criminal case information to all relevant parties
  • the COVID-19 pandemic:
    • bringing a closure of court buildings and accelerating the introduction of alternative ways of delivering court services such as nightingale courts, amidst concerns about backlogs
    • calls to improve safety measures and introduce a national protocol for remote hearings, to prevent variation in decisions regarding physical attendance requirements as courts and tribunals continue to operate during the second national lockdown in England
    • COVID-19: Update on recovery in courts and tribunals - outlining how operations have been maintained during the pandemic, and plans for delivering justice through online services and remote hearings, whilst increasing the workforce, judiciary and courtroom capacity
    • Major investment in small businesses through justice system improvements - a further £142m for court system technological improvements to keep courts running through the pandemic
    • Suspected criminals held for longer as criminal courts recovery plan announced - £80m for staffing and Nightingale courts to support system recovery from the impact of the pandemic, and a temporary extension to the Custody Time Limit
  • Criminal justice system failing disabled people - the EHRC report on inclusive justice which found the increasing use of video hearings to conduct trials during the coronavirus pandemic had 'significantly hindered' communication and understanding for people with disabilities
  • the Justice Select Committee's inquiry on the court reform programme - finding that sufficient steps have not been taken to address the needs of vulnerable users of the court system
  • Remote hearings in the family justice system - findings from the NFJO consultation- highlighting challenges for administering family justice proceedings remotely during the pandemic, including:
    • two thirds of parents saying their case had not been handled well, with many unable to follow their remote hearings due to technical problems
    • challenges for creating supportive environments during virtual cases, following reports of children being present in hearings and witnessing parents in distress
  • Transforming courts and tribunals: a progress update - last year’s NAO review of the HMCTS’s courts and tribunals review programme and progress made in reducing the size of the court’s estate
  • HMCTS response to the 2019 report on use of data and academic engagement:
    • following Dr Natalie Byrom’s report, and outlining progress made in meeting the report’s recommendations over the last 12 months,
    • amidst recent concerns that Government has been too slow in taking up the key proposals and is running out of time to embed an effective data strategy
  • COVID-19 and the criminal justice system  - Crest Advisory research indicating criminal court capacity will need to double to prevent the case backlog growing to an unmanageable level
  • Not such smart tech: the trouble with remote court hearings - the Times reporting The Lord Chief Justice’s comments on issues with poor technology being used in the lower courts and the impact on jury trials

The agenda:

  • Next steps for the courts and tribunals system - nightingale courts, addressing the backlog, and the future delivery of jury trials
  • Progress with the court modernisation programme
  • Modernisation and the criminal justice workforce - adopting new ways of working, new skills and remote hearings
  • Transitioning to online courts - priorities for delivering justice through virtual courtrooms and the impact of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and asynchronous processes
  • Data sharing, protection and infrastructure
  • Court Infrastructure - technology, collecting data and preventing digital exclusion

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Ministry of Justice; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Government Legal Department; the Home Office; and the Law Commission of England and Wales.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy from the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service, Legal Aid Agency,  the Home Office and other relevant Departments, as well as from senior representatives from law firms, chambers, court businesses, court software providers, legal technology firms,  charities and campaign groups, local government, and all aspects of the justice system, as well as academics and reporters from the national and trade media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Kevin Sadler

Acting Chief Executive, HM Courts & Tribunals Service


Oliver Lodge

Director, National Audit Office

Professor Richard Susskind

IT Adviser To The Lord Chief Justice

Dr Joe Tomlinson

Senior Lecturer in Public Law, University of York and Research Director, Public Law Project

David Johnson

Partner, Complex and Catastrophic Injury, DAC Beachcroft Claims

Dr Natalie Byrom

Director of Research and Learning, The Legal Education Foundation

Penelope Gibbs

Director, Transform Justice

Paul Yates

Counsel, Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer

Dr Lisa Wintersteiger

Chief Executive, Law for Life