Westminster Legal Policy Forum

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Next steps for court modernisation - new technology and working practices, the shift to virtual courtrooms, and ensuring access to justice

January 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on 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 conference is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the MoJ; the CPS; the GLD; Home Office; HMCTS; the Law Commission of England and Wales; the Legal Aid Agency; MHCLG; the Planning Inspectorate; BEIS; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; and the National Audit Office.

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 and civil 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

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

A scan of relevant developments:

  • 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
    • with the President of the Courts of England and Wales announcing that a final decision on the business case for funding the programme has been deferred until February
  • the COVID-19 pandemic:
    • resulting in extended operating hours being piloted in seven crown courts as part of the courts recovery plan, with the HMCTS intending on widening its use and confirming measures will not continue beyond June 2021, as lawyers respond to a rapid consultation on the new model for delivering justice during the pandemic
    • the Criminal Bar Association asking the EHRC to intervene over extending court opening hours and determine whether the plans would amount to workplace discrimination
    • 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, with three new courtrooms set to open at MoJ headquarters for family cases until summer 2021, as part of a £30m investment to boost court capacity
    • 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
  • the Spending Review - announcing £337m to reduce court backlogs and support victims, with £43m to ensure courts are COVID-safe and a further £76m to increase family courts and employment tribunal capacity
  • introduction of pre-recorded cross-examinations - across all Crown Courts in England and Wales, to support the delivery of evidence and protect vulnerable witnesses and victims

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; HM Courts & Tribunals Service; the Law Commission of England and Wales; Legal Aid Agency; BEIS; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; the National Audit Office; the MHCLG; and the Planning Inspectorate. Also due to attend are representatives from Amicable; Bar Standards Board; Capita; CILEx Regulation; Civil Court Users Association; CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang; Equality and Human Rights Commission; Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL); iCourts - the Centre of Excellence for International Courts; Littleton Chambers; National Adoption Service; National Association of Licensed Paralegals; Office Of The Police And Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire; Shoosmiths; Support Through Court; Technation; The Bar Council; The Law Society; The Sheriffs Office; Thomson Reuters; Triad Group; UNISON; University of Buckingham; University of East Anglia; University of Oxford; University of Sheffield; University of Sunderland; White & Case and Withers.

Press passes have been reserved by representatives from the Law Society Gazette and The Guardian.

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

This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles