The roll-out of e-filing systems at Manchester Civil Justice Centre had to be halted due to checks including data security, senior figures have said.
The hold-up emerged in a circular from HM Courts and Tribunals Service sent last week to update judges and other senior figures about reforms to the family division.
A brief included in the circular states that a ‘pause’ was put on the roll-out of digital solutions, in particular the Manchester e-filing system, to allow an assessment to be made about the level of risk posed by these systems and the business continuity.
Public law service manager Emma Petty states that the pause has now been lifted, but she encourages a review of any decision to implement the system in the next year.
In a statement, a spokesman for HMCTS said: 'We are improving digital working in family courts as part of the £1bn we are investing to reform and digitise our courts to deliver swifter justice.
'As part of this, an e-filing system created by Manchester Civil and Family Justice Centre is being used to help make handling case files simpler for staff and the judiciary.
'Further roll-out of this system was paused to increase the capacity of the support team. There has been no risk to data, which is maintained on a secure network.'
HMCTS staff have been developing a system at Manchester Civil and Family Justice Centre which enables the filing of electronic documents by emails that are then automatically saved within the appropriate electronic court file stored on a shared drive.
In the update, Petty says the system provides ‘some clear benefits, not least reducing the need to process large volumes of paper and enabled remote access’. But she stresses it has not been subject to rigorous testing and does not yet have the required national support, such as helpdesks.
She adds: ‘It is worth emphasising that the guidance supporting implementation must be followed carefully, to ensure effective and timely communication to those expected to use the system; if users do not fully understand what is expected of them the system will not work properly.’
According to a survey of 42 designated family judges, 27 are using e-files as opposed to paper files, 17 are using the e-file to access documents in the courtroom and 15 family courts are using the Manchester e-filing system.
In the circular, which is signed by HMCTS deputy chief executive Kevin Sadler and Sir James Munby, president of the family division, the pair say: ‘It almost goes without saying that we are truly grateful to all members of HMCTS staff and judiciary for their hard work and commitment to progress digital working so well at a local level over the last couple of years whilst we have not had the funding to modernise our systems.’