Reforming HM Courts and Tribunals Service

Reforming HM Courts and Tribunals Service

In March, justice secretary Chris Grayling confirmed that the MoJ was looking at ways to raise the revenue and investment necessary to modernise the courts system. This prompted speculation that private investors would be encouraged to invest in courts with dire consequences to the justice system.

Now in a letter to judges on plans to reform HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, and the senior president of tribunals, Sir Jeremy Sullivan, join Grayling to deny that the government is planning to sell off the courts. An ‘independent public interest corporation’ may take over the ownership of courts and tribunals but “whatever the final outcome of this work, one thing is certain. The provision of justice is and will remain a core function of the State.”

The letter goes on to say: “We are all committed to ensuring that vital constitutional safeguards (including access to justice, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the preservation of the position of the Lord Chief Justice) are maintained.”

Addressing privatisation fears directly, the letter promises that there will be no erosion of the constitutional position of courts and tribunals or the constitutional principles which underpin the independent administration of justice. The trio promise that “we are not and will not be exploring any options which will involve share holders, the making of a profit or surplus or contracting out or profit making on the basis of judicial and linked administrative functions, other than for the exclusive purpose of investing any surplus into the administration of justice.”

But, ‘given current financial pressures’, they have decided that there must be a reassessment of how best to ensure the continuing sustainability of the courts and tribunal systems, the provision of modern services, and better value for the tax payer’s money. They write: “Our courts are not always where they need to be and not always used to the full. Our buildings do not always offer modern, high quality facilities. Some are not properly accessible to all users. They should be better equipped to enable the business of the courts and tribunals to be conducted more efficiently.”

The three state that “In short, given the financial stringency which will be applied to HMCTS, as to everywhere else, we are examining every realistic option to provide greater reliability of funding for the administration of justice, greater planning certainty, and to facilitate investment in modernisation.”

The letter confirms that digital working will be introduced and that funds to modernise technology in the criminal courts have been secured. “Nevertheless, there is still some way to go before we have an IT system fit for purpose across the whole system.”

The letter concludes that work on the options is continuing and will throughout reflect the views of the judiciary, who are represented on the Programme Board. “We will keep you informed as our plans develop”, they say.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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