The Ministry of Justice is forging ahead with its £1bn court modernisation plans by allowing online appeals to the first-tier tax tribunal.
People unhappy with their bill will no longer have to print out, manually fill in and post their forms, the ministry said. The initiative is expected to cut the number of incomplete or inaccurate forms being returned. The ministry says more than 2,000 people have already benefitted from the 'quicker, streamlined' system, with almost a third of appeals being made online since the initiative was introduced in June last year.
The new system allows people to appeal decisions made by HM Revenue and Customs in relation to all appeals to the first-tier tax tribunal. In some circumstances, applicants must already have lodged an appeal with HMRC. A judge will consider the appeal and, if necessary, proceed the case to a hearing. The forms spell out what steps applicants must have already taken.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC said: 'Allowing people to submit their tax appeals online is just one example of how we are making the system quicker, smarter and much more user-friendly.'
Earlier this week the ministry announced that video hearings will be piloted with members of the public for the first time, starting with tax appeals.
Other court reforms have included an online divorce application, a 'plead guilty online' system at Lavender Hill Magistrates' Court in London to process fare evaders, and an increased use of video links to prevent vulnerable victims meeting the accused face-to-face.
Last month the government proposed closing a further eight courts, saying work can be done away from physical court buildings. Frazer said at the time: ‘As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for court buildings and assess whether some are still necessary to provide effective access to justice. Where physical courts are to close, every penny raised will be put back into funding changes which will make justice easier to access for all at the same time as offering protections for the most vulnerable.’
The ministry announced in February 2016 that 86 of the 91 courts it had consulted on would close. Most of those 86 have now been closed and the buildings sold. As at the end of November the courts estate had a total of 350 buildings, including 94 Crown courts, 160 magistrates’ courts, 210 county courts and 141 tribunals. This number is expected to be trimmed to 339 if the latest closure proposals go through.