Rapid Consultation: The impact of COVID-19 measures on the civil justice system.

Background

The measures put in place to tackle the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in significant changes in the operation of the civil justice system, particularly the swift expansion of the use of remote hearings. It is unknown how long these measures will continue for. The Civil Justice Council (CJC) therefore considers it important and timely to seek feedback on the impact of these changes. This feedback will be used to inform any further guidance that is issued and identify areas where additional work may be needed.

About the consultation

The CJC has commissioned an independent review led by Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Research at The Legal Education Foundation with the support of a wider virtual working group to gather feedback on the impact of COVID measures on the civil justice system.

This review will run for two weeks from Friday the 1st of May to Friday the 15th of May 2020 in order to report by the 22nd of May 2020. The aim of the review is to provide an overview of the operation of current measures and offer practical recommendations to inform the ongoing response to COVID. It will concentrate on the experience and reaction of court users. It will also provide useful ground work for any future wider review of the use of remote hearings, identifying areas where further evidence may be needed.

Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls

Sir Terence Etherton, The Master of the Rolls, Head of Civil Justice and Chairman of the Civil Justice Council said: “It is essential that we understand quickly how court users are being affected by the widespread changes adopted by the civil justice system in response to COVID-19. This review is a chance for users to give feedback on how the changes are impacting them and to suggest areas of improvement. The evidence collected by this review will be invaluable in shaping the way forward for the civil justice system, both immediately and in the longer term.”

The review is particularly interested in gathering feedback from court users in response to the following questions:

  • What is working well about the current arrangements?
  • Which types of cases are most suited to which type of hearings and why?
  • How does the experience of remote hearings vary depending on the platform that is used?
  • What technology is needed to make remote hearings successful?
  • What difference does party location make to the experience of the hearing?
  • How do remote hearings impact on the ability of representatives to communicate with their clients?
  • How do professional court users and litigants feel about remote hearings?
  • How do litigants in person experience hearings that are conducted remotely?
  • How do remote hearings impact on perceptions of the justice system by those who are users of it?
  • How is practice varying across different geographical regions?
  • What has been the impact of current arrangements on open justice?

How to get involved

There are three ways to participate in the review:

Submit material to the literature review: The consultation will review existing published accounts of the experience of civil court users during this time. If you or your organisation have published any relevant material (guidance, blog posts, opinion pieces), or if you have findings from a survey you would be happy to share, please email: consultation@theLEF.org

Complete the survey on the experience of remote hearings: The Civil Justice Council has a particular interest in understanding the experience of court users who have participated in a remote hearing since the 19th of March 2020. If you have participated in, or observed, a remote hearing since the 19th of March 2020, please follow this link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CJC_CovidReview to complete this survey. Due to the considerable pressures on judicial and court staff time, at the request of the Master of the Rolls, this survey is focussed on users; the equally important views of judiciary and court staff will be gathered by other means.

Join the remote consultation meeting: A virtual consultation meeting will be held on the 11th of May 2020 – further information and joining instructions will be issued in due course.

If you have any other feedback you would like to raise, or would prefer to contribute by email, or telephone please email: consultation@theLEF.org

Europia update their web site (and us).

Our friends at Europia have relaunched their web site and provided the following updates this week.

Coronovirus Info in different languages
Europia have relaunched their website. There is some useful written and video information on coronavirus in different European languages. Check it out at https://europia.org.uk/covid-19/

Simplified Referrals
They have developed a simplified referral process for anyone needing to refer someone to CABB/Europia Immigration and EUSS services. Please use the attached form and send and send it to officerteam@cabb.org.uk. Clients can still phone direct on 0300 330 9071.

Service Survey
Europia have just come to the end of their 1st year of funding for the EUSS project and would like to collect your views on the service they have provided up to know. They would be really grateful if you could respond to the short survey below – it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. If you could also encourage your team members to fill it in that would be fantastic – Thanks in advance https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/XXPSLNR

Home Office Guidance on NRPF
They have attached a copy of recent Home Office case worker guidance on NRTF which is useful. If you have anyone in this position who needs to apply to lift the NRPF restrictions to avoid destitution please get in touch via the referrals form.

Home Affairs Select Committee
Finally there was a Home Affairs select committee on Tuesday in which Colin Yeo of Free Movement, Adrian Berry of the ILPA and others did a great job in advocating for a Statutory Instrument to clarify various measures relating to immigration in the context of the effects of the COVID-19 Crisis on people subject to immigration control. Let’s hope their interventions achieve the desired affect. Watch this space for any emerging info.

Leigh Day call for evidence re disabled students and universal credit.

This just in from Leigh Day.

Tessa Gregory and Lucy Cadd from the law firm Leigh Day. are bringing a judicial review challenge to the DWP’s policy which prevents disabled students from making a claim to UC. They are seeking further evidence to support the judicial review (in the form of case studies).

Students are disqualified from making a claim to UC. However, Regulation 14(b) Universal Credit Regulations 2013 provides exceptions to the requirement not to be receiving education. In the case of their client, the relevant exception is that she is in receipt of a qualifying benefit (attendance allowance, disability living allowance or personal independence payment), in her case being PIP. The exception stipulates that she must also have been determined to have limited capability for work (LCW). However, UC will not offer students who do not yet have a LCW determination, a WCA.

Therefore on making her claim for UC, the client was told that a work capability assessment would not be provided for her in order for her to be determined as LCW and her claim for UC was closed.

The Secretary of State’s policy ‘Students: eligibility, conditionality and student income – v 16.0 (2019)’ states that the exception in Reg14(b) only applies to disabled individuals who have already been determined as having LCW and who are seeking to become students. The exemption therefore does not apply to disabled students who attempt to claim UC whilst already undertaking a course of study.

They would be very interested to hear of others who are in a similar position to their client. If there are people you have represented who have been in the same or similar situation they would be extremely grateful if you could provide a short summary of their situation to us (gaining their prior authority to do so). They are seeking supportive case studies for the judicial review.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any further information. Our contact details are Tessa Gregory – tgregory@leighday.co.uk and Lucy Cadd – lcadd@leighday.co.uk.

Bedroom Talk.

In amongst the veritable storm of information GMWRAG members have no doubt found themselves on the end of in the past week or more it has been noted that very little has explicitly mentioned the potential impact Covid-19 has on Bedroom Tax. Self-isolation certainly raises the issue of exemption albeit how long for is a question yet to be answered. Presumably a minimum of 14 days would be inarguable if the consequence of self-isolation was separate bedrooms and longer if the virus were to then spread to household members in turn.

It does raise the thorny issue of whether separate bedrooms might be irrelevant if the virus were to spread within a household but there’s surely something to be looked at here?

We note the issue has been raised on Rightsnet with minimal comment. However, we’d be interested in raising what’s in danger of becoming a forgotten issue in the current maelstrom and we’d be especially interested in whether GMWRAG members are busy testing this out.

Usual deal. Contact GMWRAG by emailing us at

GMWRAG

at

Hotmail

Dot

Co

Dot

UK

And yes, doing it with that formatting really does help reduce our spam emails. We look forward to hearing from you.

It’s been a long time comin’ but I know a change gonna come!

GMWRAG is only mildly ecstatic to bring to your attention to the launch of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. Putting aside our only slight incredulity that it’s taken them this long in the face of such overwhelming evidence of there being a fundamental problem based on a fallacy about the frequency with which people get paid and the way in which people budget… GMWRAG welcomes the inquiry and urges all GMWRAG members to make a contribution. This really is a “put up or shut up” moment. Indeed, it could be argued that most of the work has been done already.

“Five weeks too long” by the Trussell Trust.

“We need to end the five week wait” by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“Five week wait must go” by Citizens Advice.

We could go on, and we will (this is the but we always thieve from Rightsnet).

Many claimant support organisations have concluded that the five-week wait must be reduced or eliminated entirely so the Committee summarises some of the suggested options for change, including making advances non-repayable; offering non-repayable advances to some claimants, such as those with a vulnerability; allowing more flexibility to backdate claims; extending run-on payments to cover all legacy benefits; substantially reducing the repayment rates for advances; and paying universal credit two-weekly.

With the aim of helping the government ‘better understand’ the upsides and downsides of these options, and to explore other possible solutions, the Committee seeks views on the following questions –

  • to what extent have the mitigations the government has introduced so far (such as advance payments) helped to reduce the negative impact of the five-week wait?
  • what problems do claimants still experience during the five-week wait?
  • what is the best way of offsetting the impact of the five-week wait?
  • is it possible to estimate how much this would cost the Department?
  • is it possible to estimate any costs or savings to third parties (for example, support organisations)?
  • are different mitigating options needed for different groups of claimants?
  • are there barriers or potential unintended consequences to removing the five-week wait – either for claimants or the Department? How can they be overcome?

NB – responses must reach the Committee by Friday the 17th of April 2020.

Commenting on the inquiry, Committee Chair Stephen Timms said –

‘It’s now widely recognised that the lengthy wait for a first payment of universal credit is causing real difficulties for people—so it’s hugely welcome that the Minister is open to looking at how to fix it. The Committee wants to look carefully at all the possible solutions, and work out which are the most practical, affordable, and likely to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives.’

For more details see New Inquiry: Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment from parliament.uk.

If anyone would like to share their responses with GMWRAG we will be more than happy to publish them both as a repository of suggested good practice and to inspire those of you so overwhelmed with anger and cases you don’t know quite where to start.

Theft is really the sincerest form of, er, theft.

We can’t think of a nicer way to say “we nicked this from Rightsnet; messed about with it a bit; tried to pretend we could make it look like we didn’t really nick it; called them “our friends from” in the hope we won’t be sued and so on.

So, we nicked this from that other place and we were gonna do all the above and then thought, “why not just give them the link?”. So, er, here it is. We think it’s important. It’s called “Call for evidence launched into the economics of Universal Credit” so how could it not be. Anyway, something blah something blah the Economic Affairs Committee, which we think is this but it looks much duller than this, which came up first in our search. The latter has lots of water bottles. The former has, oh… look… it has (and we quote)…

Viscount Chandos

Lord Cunnigham of Felling

Lord Darling of Roulanish

The fantastically illiterated Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted

and of course Lord Stern of Brentford.

Well then, now we’ve put it like that how can you possibly resist! Go forth and… no, not that… give evidence. An actual proper link can be found here and for amusement the closing date is the 29th of February 2020.

Guessing they used that because somebody had to.

Research measuring the impact of applying for PIP on a claimant’s perception of their health condition.

With grateful thanks to our friends at Rightsnet.

Can you help? Catherine from the University of Bedfordshire is wanting to reach people who’ve applied or are applying for PIP.

Are you going through or about to start the PIP application process? This can be a difficult time but, if you can, please spare a few minutes to complete a short online survey.

Your answers will contribute to new independent research into the possibility that people’s perception of their condition changes as a result of going through the PIP application process. It is important as perception has demonstrable impact on levels of depression, quality of life, ability to follow treatment plans and even recovery and survival rates. If there is an effect then this needs to be highlighted and, if not, we can look for other explanations for the experiences that many PIP claimants describe.

The research is part of an Applied Psychology Masters dissertation by Catherine Haslam and has been approved by the University of Bedfordshire’s Psychology ethics board. The survey is short and doesn’t ask any personal health questions. All data is annonymised & aggregated.

Thank you in advance for your help. The survey can be accessed at:

https://bedshealthsciences.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9uJpGzsLdeEnPpP

Right hand. Meet left hand! Wring in despair.

HMCTS have recently upped the ante as regards tribunal modernisation and in particular COR (Continuous Online Resolution). By “upped the ante” we do of course mean that they have finally started to engage with the outside world or at least broadcast to them, which is of course as “consulty” as HMCTS tend to get.

For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about full (ish) details can be found on an excellent thread on Rightsnet. Why are we writing this now then? Very simple.

First of all a consultation has been launched on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

The Public Bill Committee welcomes views from anyone with relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Bill (that would be you GMWRAG members) which has three main effects –

  • it confers regulation-making powers on Ministers, subject to the affirmative procedure – appropriate ministers can designate certain types of court or tribunal proceedings as ones which may or must be conducted by electronic means, subject to the Online Procedure Rules (OPRs);
  • it establishes the Online Procedure Rule Committee (OPRC) and defines that body’s powers to make OPRs; and
  • it determines the membership rules and appointments process for the OPRC.

While the deadline for evidence is expected to be 5pm on Thursday 25 July 2019, the Committee highlights that it is no longer able to receive written evidence once it concludes its consideration of the Bill which may be earlier than that deadline.

Having started in the House of Lords, the Bill was debated and read for the second time in the House of Commons yesterday, during which Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Paul Maynard – responding to concerns about ‘digitisation by default’ – stated that –

‘I have said at least twice in the debate already that the alternative methods must be protected at all times. People can seek telephone advice, for example. We are also piloting face-to-face advice in at least 25 areas. At any point, people can opt out of the online procedure, and the paper-based alternative will always be available. Either side in a case can opt out of an online procedure to ensure that it does not occur online.’

GMWRAG members can submit evidence via have your say on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill.

This brings us neatly to the second aspect of this.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report 2019 has concluded that successful delivery of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) Reform Programme is in doubt for the sixth year running. Yes, you really did read that correctly!

The IPA assessed 133 projects included in its GMPP programme this year, including 43 ‘transformation and service delivery projects’, providing each with a ‘Delivery Confidence Assessment’ of green (successful delivery probable) through amber (successful delivery feasible but significant issues exist) to red (successful delivery appears unachievable).

Anyone familiar with the mystery of disappearing online appeals will of course be wondering out loud at this point what realistic chance there is that any of the more complex stuff like COR is ever delivered. On the other hand disappearing online appeals could be described as a fairly efficient way of reducing the backlog which sees people in some areas waiting more than a year for a hearing date.

In relation to the HMCTS Reform Programme, the IPA gives a rating of amber/red – as it has done for the five previous years – defined as –

‘Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible’

NB – data from the Ministry of Justice to support the IPA report advises that –

‘The programme continues to deliver new services to users and has now launched a new service in every jurisdiction. Over 140,000 users have now used these services and the average satisfaction rate remains high, at above 80 per cent. As part of the business case refresh the programme timeline has been extended by one year and will now expect to close in 2023. Learning from the services that we have already delivered and the feedback received, including from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, we have decided to re-order aspects of the programme. This will allow more time to develop some of the shared systems that sit behind our next set of online services.’

Elsewhere, the IPA reports that the DWP’s People and Locations Programme has left the GMPP after successfully delivering savings from a ‘rationalised’ DWP estate (although last year’s annual report rated the Programme as amber/red), the Universal Credit Programme is rated amber (as it was last year) and GOV.UK Verify is rated red (compared to an amber rating last year).

GMWRAG rather thinks these things speak for themselves.

MIND research on the WCA.

MIND are conducting some research into the WCA with a view to contributing to the Social Security Commission.

They are looking for volunteers who have had a WCA and who would be interested in taking part in an interview for research for MIND.

Who are they looking for?

• People who are going or have recently been through the WCA.

• Different types of mental health conditions.

• Would be open to an interview with our research team.

• They would be paid from £60 to £80 (depending on the research part they get involved with) to say thank you for their time.

If you know anyone who might be interested or have any questions, please contact them on 020 7735 8040, or email:

rosa.grossman

@revealingreality

.co.uk or

maeve.garner

@revealingreality

.co.uk

And, yes, we did break those email addresses down deliberately.

Please see the attached.