Virtual consultation rooms and a network to monitor connectivity issues in remote hearings are part of a new platform that will help the courts to reduce the backlog of outstanding cases, the lord chief justice has claimed.
The Cloud Video Platform was brought forward last year to keep the justice system moving during the pandemic. However, Lord Burnett of Maldon revealed in a keynote address to the Legal Wales Conference last week that a new video hearings service will be rolled out.
Lord Burnett said: ‘The new service platform is better and will provide a higher quality and managed platform to enable some or all participants in legal proceedings to join by video from any suitable location. It was first demonstrated to me in May last year and its potential was clear. I have more recently seen it in operation in the Employment Tribunal in Bristol.
‘The Video Hearings Service aims to deliver a flexible and efficient service for people using courts and tribunals as an alternative to attending. It will save participants the time and inconvenience involved in travelling to a court building and thus save expense for litigants, whether directly when they are unrepresented or because their lawyers are spending less time on a case. It should enhance access to justice for many.
‘The service has many additional features compared to other remote video platforms, including virtual consultation rooms, checks and guidance to ascertain compatibility for use, the explanation of court rules for the user and a monitored hearing network to check connectivity thus ensuring that no-one drops out unnoticed.’
A new ‘List Assist’ tool is expected to improve listing decisions.
Lord Burnett said: ‘List Assist will introduce consistent digital tools and new processes. They will provide better support for judicial decision-making on scheduling and listing across all courts and tribunals. The tool will replace standalone diaries which have, to use the jargon, “limited functionality”. In some places List Assist will replace paper diaries and will ultimately merge with case management systems that will make it easier and quicker for listing officers to perform their role whilst reducing the need to re-enter information across multiple systems.'
The lord chief revealed that rollout of Common Platform, which will enable parties in a criminal case to access relevant information on one system, was paused during August and September.
‘HMCTS remains bedevilled, not only in the criminal jurisdiction, by an inability to extract reliable data from the current systems of sufficient particularity to enable properly informed planning. The pilots and then gradual roll-out of the Common Platform have been accompanied by some difficult problems and setbacks which the code writers and IT specialists responsible for the project are working to resolve...
'During August and September, its rollout was paused to enable issues on system stability and resilience to be dealt with. That work continues. But introduction and eventual rollout of the Common Platform to all our criminal courts is vital. We are assured by HMCTS that it will come good. And it needs to, because there is no alternative.’