The Ministry of Justice today pledged up to £75m a year for the next five years to modernise and upgrade the court system in England and Wales.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling said that the Treasury has agreed to fund the use of modern technology, an improved estate and modernisation of current working practices.
The result, Grayling said, will be annual savings of more than £100m a year by the 2019/20 financial year.
And in the future, the legal profession and other users should need to attend a court or tribunal only ‘when it is absolutely necessary’.
In a joint letter with lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and senior president of tribunals Sir Jeremy Sullivan, Grayling said: ‘The investment, apart from benefiting the taxpayer, will enable the legal profession and other justice agencies to adopt more efficient and cost-saving working practices by using digital technology in their dealings with the courts and tribunals.
‘Wherever possible, we wish to provide those using the justice system with maximum flexibility as to how they access courts, tribunals and their supporting administration.’
The money, which supplements funding already pledged by the MoJ to upgrading courts, will be allocated to more digital working in court and greater use of court and hearing rooms.
It is the product of a year-long discussion between HM Courts and Tribunals Service and senior judicial figures.
The reform programme will be led by a strengthened HMCTS board directly accountable to the MoJ and judiciary.
HMCTS will bring in ‘commercial leadership and expertise’ and establish a further board solely accountable to the HMCTS board.
Certain issues, such as judicial deployment and the setting of court fees, will remain the responsibility of the judiciary and lord chancellor respectively, but it has been agreed that any proceeds of ‘capital disposals’ or income raised by HMCTS will go back into the courts and tribunals system.
In a joint statement, Lord Thomas and Sir Jeremy Sullivan said the investment ‘will uphold this most fundamental function of the state and maintain the international reputation of our justice system’.
They added: ‘The reform programme will provide the administration of justice with a sustainable infrastructure for the future, meeting the needs of the public, legal profession and justice agencies.’
Grayling said talks will be held with HMCTS staff and all levels of the judiciary, with plans for a consultation at local court and tribunal level.