The head of the courts service has pledged to listen to users to get a full picture of the ongoing reform programme.
In the first of a promised series of blogs, HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said her department had not talked widely enough about the reform plans to transform the courts and tribunals service in England and Wales.
But she was also candid that the government could do more to hear the concerns of people attending court on a regular basis, to truly understand the challenges they face.
‘I don’t think we’ve listened enough, or given enough ways for people who care about the system and how it works to help shape its improvement,’ she said.
‘I’d like to change that; and my own discussions and engagements on Twitter and elsewhere have shown that there’s a great appetite for this, but also much more we need to do to hear what’s being said.’
Acland-Hood said she had visited at least one court or tribunal a week and had been to every region since starting 10 months ago. Each time she has discussed the service with court staff, barristers, solicitors, police and other groups who regularly attend court.
She said it was clear the service suffers from poor IT, unreasonable demands of staff and ‘dispiriting’ buildings.
‘Although everyone I meet is dedicated to serving citizens well, it’s in the context of a system that feels long, slow and complex even in simple matters and is hampered by creaking paper processes that are hugely labour intensive, meaning other things suffer and errors multiply when staff are short.
‘At worst, these things can make us look indifferent to other people’s time and trouble.’
Acland-Hood said the service had ‘reached the limit’ of what could be expected of local court staff.
Now the reform programme, funded by a £1bn investment from central government, is expected to make the courts run more efficiently and effectively.
Acland-Hood acknowledged that some elements, such as the online court and flexible operating hours, are ‘contested’, and she added: ‘That debate has shown me that we need to do better at inviting and then listening to debate on the more difficult elements of reform.’