HM Courts & Tribunals Service has narrowly failed to meet a self-imposed target for a controversial online plea system, according to a progress report on its £1bn courts modernisation.
At the start of the year HMCTS pledged that user satisfaction for the Single Justice Procedure would not fall below 75% as new prosecutors were introduced. The procedure, introduced in 2015, allows defendants accused of summary-only, non-imprisonable, ‘victimless’ offences to be tried and sentenced on the papers by a single magistrate.
However, updating the Public Accounts Committee, which has expressed serious concerns about the government’s ability to achieve the unprecedented project, on its progress, HMCTS said user satisfaction was currently tracking at 73%. ‘Work continues to increase engagement and user satisfaction, by making changes in response to feedback, and looking at what helps people to engage’, HMCTS’s report, published yesterday, says.
At the start of the year HMCTS committed to 15 milestones within six months. The Single Justice Procedure target was one of four ‘not met’.
The other three include piloting civil money claims mediation with an ‘opt out approach’ for defended claims up to £300. HMCTS said the pilot is ‘technically read for deployment. However, the start of the pilot has been coupled with rules changes and associated development to enable delegation of work to legal advisers. That digital development is not yet ready to be released but will be available shortly’.
Further pilots of video hearings in the civil and family jurisdictions should have been completed. HMCTS said it has started – but not finished – testing video hearings at Manchester and Birmingham Civil and Family Justice centres.
Pilots of flexible operating hours at Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre were supposed to begin by the summer. These will commence on Monday.
The 11 milestones that HMCTS has been able to meet include fully digital probate and divorce application processes. It ‘operationally exited’ 119 of the 120 properties announced for closure in the first phase of the estates reform project as planned.
HMCTS lists 17 new commitments for May. These include completing the ‘digitisation and transformation’ of the online civil money claims service for claims up to £10,000, replacing the legacy employment tribunal IT system with a digital system, and a ‘transformed national digital journey’ for family public law cases.
HMCTS has already put the completion date for its ambitious project back by a year.