Her Mightily Confused Tribunals Service. What could possibly be going wrong?

Which address?Here’s a quick follow up from our post announcing the redacted minutes of the first Manchester Tribunal User Group in 18 months. GMWRAG is relieved but utterly bewildered to discover our observation that HMCTS have not sent out minutes to anyone not in attendance may not be accurate. One of our member organisations has now received no less than three copies of said redacted minutes.

So, instead of receiving 7 pages they have received 21. Our member has only ever signed up using individual names and yet all 3 addresses are no longer addressed to those individuals. The 1st and 3rd of the 3 addresses above haven’t existed for 3.5 years. The 2nd is the same address but apparently in Manchester. GMWRAG probably doesn’t need to tell our members the perils of suggesting that any part of Salford is either “in Manchester”; “just Manchester” or “Manchester really”.

More to the point, staff at said service (long located within the Civic Centre in Salford) to the best of our knowledge continue to represent appellants and receive correctly addressed papers from Liverpool on a daily basis.

HMCTS and liaison. What could possibly be going wrong?!

GMWRAG would be very interested to know whether any other members have had similar issues. No TUG minutes at all or an excess? Please let us know.

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The minutes of the Manchester Tribunal User Group are now available.

GMWRAG is old enough to remember when Tribunal User Groups (TUG) were held four times a year. We have long been of the view that holding a Manchester TUG once a year is largely tokenistic and speaks to an organisation largely disinterested in genuine engagement with its “customer base” or whatever it wants to call tribunal users this year. At a point when HMCTS is closing venues; relocating regional centres and tentatively entering the virtual world about 25 years after the rest of the world we can’t bring ourselves to express much surprise then that it has been 18 months since the last Manchester TUG.

Nor will we express much surprise that HMCTS once again demonstrates itself incapable of competent organisation having listed this one for “hearing” during half term and then not sending out the minutes to those organisations which it invited but who were, quite understandably, unable to attend for rather obvious practical reasons. Next, HMCTS will be claiming there’s no need for a TUG because few people attend. Well… we can’t imagine why that would be!

A quick GMWRAG review of Manchester TUG minutes shows that pretty much nothing has changed in the best part of 30 years. End to end administration remains poor and delays remain unacceptable. The same issues occur repeatedly.

We are therefore almost delighted to present for your delectation a set of 2018 minutes in which HMCTS have presented us with something new. Plus an accompanying document in which HMCTS have presented us with something about “reform”.

Manchester TUG GMWRAG Minutes 2018.

Another “reform” document.

The “something new”? GMWRAG has never seen a set of TUG minutes in which the basic performance statistics with which we have been provided for the past 30 plus years is accompanied by the following statement:

“This information does not form part of the Official Statistics and is restricted and should not be shared more widely than the attendees at this meeting.”

This leaves GMWRAG members in the extraordinary position that not only are TUGs now 18 months apart (and every TUG meeting for the past 30 years has contained a question from an attendee about the continued failure to hold meetings with the required frequency) but if you can’t make it then you don’t even get to see the contents of the meeting nor the basic performance statistics which enable you to for example advise clients of how long it might take for their appeal to be listed!

GMWRAG is extremely grateful for the member who provided these minutes. We can say we have redacted the relevant “performance” statistics with the utmost reluctance and feel grubby for having done so. We can see no reason for their redaction and will be writing to HMCTS to query the approach. We look forward to the likely GDPR related explanation. We wonder if this will be as credible as the recent attempt to explain away problems with introducing implicit consent to Universal Credit as also being because of GDPR!

In the meantime we have been amusing ourselves with the interwebs many apposite acronyms for GDPR. We’re quite taken with “Generally Dreadful Permanently Rubbish”. Why that one stuck? Who knows.

And yes, it’s not you, the Christmas snow on the GMWRAG web site should now be back in business.

Tidying up October. The housekeeping email and a short notice invite from PLP.

GMWRAG would like to thank all those involved in the organisation of the recent meeting in Trafford which can officially be designated the best attended in our history. On that basis we’d also like to thank those who attended and participated for the whole day. The minutes of the meeting have already been received and, as anyone who attended could imagine, there is a lot of detail to take in. GMWRAG is conscious that we may have missed some questions to Neil Couling and some answers so before publication of the final minutes we’re asking members to send in any notes you took on the day. So this doesn’t run on for too long please email us at GMWRAG at Hotmail dot co dot UK no later than Friday the 9th of November 2018.

Preparations for the January 2019 meeting in Tameside/central Manchester are at an advanced stage and we’ll publicise those as soon as we can. Rumours that Esther McVey will be in attendance can (largely) be discounted. We’re saving her for Stockport 🙂

In the meantime, could any GMWRAG members who attended the recent Manchester Tribunal User Group meeting please email any notes taken as regards who attended from HMCTS and details of any questions and answers.

This leads us on neatly to a short notice but really important invitation from the Public Law Project.

Previous GMWRAG speaker (and the first person to be streamed live from a GMWRAG meeting) Matthew Ahluwalia would like to invite a GMWRAG member to a presentation, debate and discussion on online courts and tribunals and HMCTS’ digitalisation programme. PLP is organising the event.

PLP will provide some reading material in advance and make a presentation to start the discussion. They will then invite questions, comments and concerns inviting those present to share their views, and discuss their own work that may involve or be affected by the digitalisation programme.

If there are particular issues about online courts and the reform programme you would like discussed, please let them know and we will try to allocate some time on the agenda.

Time, date and location: 2.30pm to 4.30pm, Friday 9th November, at Herbert Smith Freehills, Exchange House, Primrose Street, London EC2A 2EG.

This event will be free of charge. Please note however that there is the offer of just the one place for one GMWRAG member.

Please could you RSVP by 2nd November so that we can confirm numbers with the venue. In order to keep this manageable we suggest you email GMWRAG or DM us via @GMWRAGTweets and we’ll pass on the details of the first contact we have to Matt.

A tug on the heartstrings.

It has come to GMWRAGs attention that the next meeting of the Manchester Tribunal User Group has finally been scheduled for Friday the 26th of October 2018 at 10am. This will be held at Manchester Crown Court Building, Ground Floor, Crown Square off Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3FL. The formal invitation, in case you haven’t received one, can be viewed here. Please note that the 2nd page of the invitation is the means by which you can raise questions in advance.

Such is the infrequency and poor communication around these occasions nowadays that GMWRAG had to have a quick debate about whether it should be catagorised as a meeting or an event! Some of us recall when there were supposed to be 4 TUGs a year and have protested for at least a decade at the reduction to 1 inevitably meaningless meeting per annum. Now it would appear we are down to 1 every 18 months, although that rather assumes that the next 1 will be 18 months away and there appear to be no guarantees on that.

For those of you who need reminding, here is a copy of the minutes of the last meeting and here is a copy of the GMWRAG notes on same. The former took a massive 2 months to produce by which time most of the issues raised had been forgotten. The former took less than 1 day! Granted the former is faster than the speed many statements of reasons and record of proceedings requests are dealt with but it does rather sum up our dilemma with HMCTS Local. On the one hand we would always want to be involved in meaningful liaison. On the other hand it’s inevitable that something which no longer has any recent history of meaningful liaison is now nothing more than a localised broadcast. The less the frequency the more that is true.

This also has to be seen in the context of recent but separate communications from HMCTS belatedly asking WR advisers and their clients to get involved in real world testing of

  • online service design review sessions at your location with clients and /or welfare rights officers, reps, advisors and case workers;
  • Attending workshops to feedback on service design.
  • Identifying appellants who have used the new online ‘Appeal a benefit decision’ service and are willing to provide feedback on it.

What could better sum up the usefulness of our local TUG than the statement in the notes that

“The judiciary already have a forum re: practical issues around digitisation held in the Crown Court. We could feed back into that but TS appeared to welcome the idea of more regular meetings with parties interested in this in order that TS could then feedback issues and suggestions nationally.”

The minutes record that this suggestion would be forwarded “… to the relevant people”. 18 months later and nothing has happened at all in consequence.

Actually, there is 1 thing which could better sum up the current position with HMCTS. The 1st tribunal in 18 months has been listed for a week which is the half term holiday for most schools in the North West of England! GMWRAG would ordinarily be minded to protest but fears that we may never see a TUG in Manchester again were we to do so.

The next Tribunal User Group meeting for Manchester and Stockport has been announced.

In view of recent announcements on court closures and plans for wholesale reform of tribunals GMWRAG is (sort of) pleased to announce that we have received an invitation to what is now being titled the “Manchester and Stockport” Tribunal User Group. This is scheduled to take place at Manchester Crown Court Building, Ground Floor, Crown Square (off Bridge Street), Manchester M3 3FL on Friday the 4th of March 2016 at 10:00am.

If you don’t know where this is… you probably don’t belong there 🙂 However, we’re confident that any map web site will help you find your way there. Google Maps even has user reviews, which has amused us no end. GMWRAG thought “Nice but full of criminals” was possibly the least helpful 4 star review we have ever read!

Please be aware that central Manchester is currently gridlocked for a number of reasons so, if you are travelling to the venue from outside the city centre, we strongly recommend public transport. Salford Central railway station is a 5 minute walk away and easily accessed from Manchester Victoria, which is of course served by both trams, trains and buses.

The meeting is described as “an opportunity for the representatives of a wide cross section of tribunal users to discuss issues that concern them with the Judiciary and Management team.”

That’s fair enough, although HM&CTS also assert that “Previous meetings have proved constructive in targeting both positive and negative areas of service that we provide.” GMWRAG is not quite sure what that means in practise.

We’re posting this up now as we are aware that, far from being a “wide cross section” of users, TUG meetings in the past have been plagued by many organisations disappearing off the mailing list and not receiving their invitations despite having been invited in the past. To make life easier we have posted a copy of the form you need to complete in order to attend. You can download this here. We apologise if it downloads sideways rather than in portrait. We have lost the will to live when it comes to scanning in documents.

Please note that you are expected to submit questions in advance.

If you are aware of when other TUGs in the North West of England are taking place please let us know via Contact GMWRAG as soon as possible. We will be happy to post details up here to ensure that attendance is truly diverse.