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HMCTS finally accepts recommendations on data collection to support the evaluation of its courts and tribunals reforms

14 October 2020

Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has finally accepted recommendations on data collection to support the evaluation of its courts and tribunals online reforms made a report from the Legal Education Foundation (LEF).

Published back in October 2019, in Digital Justice: HMCTS data strategy and delivering access to justice, the LEF’s Director of Research Dr Natalie said:

“The move to online courts is an incredible opportunity to create a justice system that works well for everyone … We need to ensure that digital processes are designed and monitored in line with recognised access to justice principles.

We also need to be able to measure how different groups fare under the online processes, compared with paper-based, or face-to-face systems. The detailed recommendations in my ‘Digital Justice’ report are intended to be a blueprint for putting access to justice at the heart of the HMCTS reform programme.”

Now in the recently published HMCTS response and progress update on Dr Natalie Byrom, Kevin Sadler its Acting Chief Executive has finally welcomed all her report’s recommendations on data collection to support the evaluation of its court reforms in full or in principle.

Dr Byrom’s detailed report made 29 recommendations including:

  • collecting data about court users’ vulnerabilities, including mental and physical disabilities, age, literacy levels, and gender;  
  • monitoring outcomes in the digital courts, both to compare with outcomes under pre-digital processes, but also to evaluate how different groups fare compared with each other under the new system;
  • collecting data on the outcomes of cases - for example abandoned/withdrawn/settled/determined and monitoring which types of users and which types of cases are decided by a judge (rather than being determined earlier in the process).

Dr Byrom said that the belated HMCTS response was “a pivotal moment for the Government to fully embrace – and fully fund – a data strategy that will deliver digital justice for all.”

She added:

“Over a year on from delivering my report to HMCTS, I welcome its acceptance of my recommendations. I urge the government to now put words into action. There is no better moment than now to step up the implementation of those recommendations. Otherwise, we will waste the opportunity to make the UK a world leader in delivering digital justice for all.”

The LEF’s Chief Executive Matthew Smerdon said:

“If the window of opportunity was vanishing a year ago when we first published the ‘Digital Justice’ report, it is now at risk of disappearing completely. Over the last 12 months, HMCTS has made disappointingly slow progress at moving forward on any of the major recommendations made by Dr Byrom.

In our view, COVID-19 cannot be an excuse. Rather, the impact of the pandemic on the court service has shone a spot-light on why it is more important than ever to improve the quality of data collection to enable the digital transformation of the court service.

 … The importance of taking action now cannot be understated. The success of the £1bn Reform Programme depends on it. We have the opportunity to do better and to make data, carefully collected, work harder, ensuring some of the most vulnerable groups in society get a fair hearing whilst being cost-efficient for taxpayers.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“The LEF report contained many welcome detailed recommendations aimed at ensuring that digital reform will not be implemented to the detriment of justice for all groups including disabled people.

The HMTCS digital reform programme is of great relevance to disabled people. Most appeals made to social security tribunals are made by disabled people at face to face hearings with the majority of both ESA and PIP appeals are being  upheld in their favour.”

For more information see The Legal Education Foundation calls on the Government to now fully fund and embed a comprehensive data strategy at the heart of HMCTS £1 billion Reform Programme to ensure justice for all.

See also the following DR UK news stories: