The government’s £1bn courts modernisation project will come under the spotlight again this year as a different set of MPs examine progress.
The justice committee of the House of Commons announced today it will conduct an inquiry into the reform programme, concentrating on implications for access to justice. MPs will look in particular at two elements of the changes: increased use of digital and video technology and the closures of courts and tribunal hearing centres.
This will be the second time in less than a year that HMCTS officials will have been summoned to parliament to give evidence on how the reforms are being implemented.
Last year the Public Accounts Committee gave a lukewarm assessment of the progress made and the chances of delivering the reform programme on budget and by its 2022 deadline.
Committee chair Bob Neill MP said: ‘There is no doubt that the HMCTS reforms represent a significant change in the delivery of justice across all areas of the system.
‘While we welcome the intention of modernising the courts and tribunals, the Public Accounts Committee has already raised concerns about the deliverability of the reforms. We are worried about the access to justice implications and will take this opportunity to put those at the heart of our inquiry.’
Written submissions are being welcomed until 11 March, with the committee requesting evidence on the effects on different areas of civil and criminal justice, and asking specifically whether online processes and video hearings can be an effective substitute for access to courts.
MPs will also ask whether the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS have consulted sufficiently with judges, lawyers and other interested parties, and whether reform bosses have done enough to evaluate the impact of reforms so far.