The government has been accused of jumping the gun by spending millions of pounds on IT projects and management consultancy to support its £1bn court modernisation programme ahead of parliamentary approval for the plan.

Despite confirming that there is no update on the Courts Bill, which will reform the courts system by embracing modern technology, the government has awarded a £30m contract to accountancy giant PwC to be a delivery partner in HM Courts & Tribunals Services’ reform programme. HMCTS is also seeking to hire a programme director, on a salary of up to £120,000 a year, to ‘lead and deliver’ its crime services programme, which includes introducing ‘fully virtual hearings’.

Former magistrate Penelope Gibbs, director of charity Transform Justice, said: ‘The government appears to have predicted that parliament will definitely pass legislative proposals in the Courts Bill. They have already spent over £30m on management consultants and £38m on IT contracts. They are advertising for a programme director to implement virtual hearings and are piloting online pleas. Yet the Courts Bill has not even been tabled. So millions of public money is being spent on new IT projects and consultancy which may yet be wasted if parliament exercises its right to turn down the court reform proposals.’ 

A spokesperson for HMCTS said the PwC contract ‘replaces a number of contracts with external suppliers, and ensures we benefit from specialist skills to deliver our reforms and get best value for money for the taxpayer’.

HMCTS says the reform programme requires specialist expertise – from the architecture of building works, to data analytics on hearing appointments, to developing complex digital processes and technology. Payment to PwC is directly linked to success.

The PwC contract replaces two contracts that HMCTS previously had with ‘big four’ rival EY, which covered business architecture, and transition and programme delivery support.

HMCTS has a separate £1.3m contract with Methods, which describes itself as a digital transformation service provider, to run a ‘judicial change leadership and engagement’ programme. The project will deliver 14 ‘outcomes’ including change programme plans, change management strategy, and new operating model for how the judiciary will work in 2022. Management consultancy giant Accenture will help with this work.