The courts and tribunals system must undergo ‘root-and-branch’ change or it risks ‘sliding into a state of rapid, managed decline’, the senior presiding judge Lord Justice Fulford has warned.
‘Put starkly, the imperative for reform increases by the day,’ he writes in his July reform update to the judiciary. ‘Our system is crumbling under the weight of outdated and inefficient paper-based processes, along with many years of significant underinvestment in IT and our estate.
‘Without root-and-branch change, we risk sliding into a state of rapid, managed decline. There is, I believe, a strong consensus for change and we have the means to fund it. We must grasp the opportunity to make the changes necessary to bring the system into the 21st century.’
Much of the four-year reform programme is dependent on the sale of court buildings following the latest round of closures. Fulford (pictured) added in an interview with The Times that contingency plans are in place in the event of a property slump, which could mean parts of the programme taking an extra two years or talking to the Treasury about a short-term alternative source of funding.
His comments come as practitioners around the country warn that the latest round of court closures, coupled with poor facilities and limited internet and IT, risk damaging access to justice.
While acknowledging much has still to be done, HMCTS interim CEO Kevin Sadler told the Gazette the focus must be on using digital options to make access to justice easier and reduce ‘dependence’ on physical courts.
HMCTS is convening a ‘Court of the Future’ working group. Fulford says in his update that a number of judges will contribute either on the working group or separately to probe proposals for the minimum standards for hearing rooms, the necessary facilities, including technology and security, and shared buildings in a reformed court estate.