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.

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