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Public Accounts Committee publish report on court reform

The progress of the current court reform programme

14 November 2019
Public Accounts Committee publish report on court reform

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report on the progress of the current court reform programme, arguing that it remains unclear how the reforms are affecting access to justice, especially for vulnerable people, and that HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has not shown it is doing enough to understand the impact on court and tribunal users before pressing ahead with reforms.

The committee reports that:

  • Reforms are continuing to fall behind schedule, and HMCTS will not be able to deliver everything promised in the current timeframe.
  • HMCTS did not adequately consider how previous court closures impacted on access to the justice system, particularly for vulnerable users. HMCTS is planning to close a further 77 courts in the next phase of reform, and the committee recommends that HMCTS should set out its plans to make sure the needs of vulnerable users are met, and put in measures to compensate for difficulties.
  • HMCTS has improved how it communicates with stakeholders, but many still do not feel listened to and 42% of those surveyed do not believe that HMCTS is open and transparent. The committee recommends that HMCTS should set out what it will do to improve its engagement with stakeholders.
  • HMCTS cannot demonstrate claimed savings are attributable to reforms. HMCTS so far claims to have saved £133m of an expected £244m from administrative, judicial and property efficiencies. However they cannot clearly demonstrate where these have come from, and the committee recommends that HMCTS should write to them with a plan demonstrating how it intends to measure and monitor benefits arising from reform.
  • The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is facing a spike in demand from changes to sentencing and increased funding for the police. The committee notes concerns that the MOJ will not have the capacity to cope with a significant rise in demand, and recommends that they set out plans to maintain and improve services in the face of rising demand.

Responding to the report, John Bache, National Chair of the Magistrates Association, said:

‘Reform of the court system is needed, but must not be at the expense of running fair, effective courts delivering accessible, visible justice. We therefore urge HMCTS to listen to the concerns set out in this report and take the necessary steps to ensure that future reforms do not hinder access to justice or damage public confidence in the justice system.’

A response from HMCTS is available here.

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