Practitioners have queried how they can properly respond to a call for evidence from MPs on the government’s £1bn court reform programme, when ministers have not been forthcoming with appropriate background data.
Concerns about the lack of information were raised the day before HM Courts & Tribunals Service announced that it was pushing the completion date for its reform programme back by a year.
The House of Commons justice select committee, which opened an inquiry in January into the access to justice implications of the reforms, asked for written submissions of evidence. The deadline for submissions is today.
However, critics said that much evidence is not in the public domain. Former magistrate Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, told a Justice Alliance event in London last week that if the courts and tribunals system is to be ‘just, proportionate and accessible’ – as the Transforming Our Justice System vision paper states – then ‘we need some of the data’.
Video hearings have been running in the criminal courts since 2000, Gibbs said, but no research has been done on their impact. ‘We do not know how many, what the outcome is, anything at all on which to base an expansion.
‘The idea that they are now proposing to introduce video hearings into civil courts, when they do not have data in the criminal courts, seems kind of odd.’
There is ‘tons of user research not in the public domain’, Gibbs claimed.
One attendee at the event asked: ‘How can we make an effective contribution in the absence of data? It’s maddening.’
The reform programme will now finish in 2023, HMCTS said. A statement said it had ‘decided to re-order aspects of the programme’ after ‘learning from the services that we have already delivered and the feedback received, including from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office’.