IT and the Courts: Treasury inertia for 15 years

The Rt Hon Liz Truss, Lord Chancellor, September 2016:

“We live in a society where you can apply for a mortgage or a job online, you can do your weekly shop from your home, plan holidays, weddings and parties on the internet. It’s high time our courts caught up.”

 

The start of my essay on “Technology and the Judicial Process”, September 2002

On 15th July 2002 the Government announced its spending plans for the next three years. After 15 years of travail, we had just embarked on a well-designed programme of court modernisation, in which IT was to play a central part. Judges and the civil servants who served them were working together towards common goals as never before. And then the bubble burst. No extra money at all was earmarked for modernising our civil and family courts, although the strains caused by years of under-investment were most obvious in that corner of the court system. Again I had to comfort the walking wounded. I had a very strong sense of déjà vu.

Nobody was listening.

 

“Should the Civil Courts be Unified?” The start of my report to the Lord Chief Justice, August 2008

There are four matters I need to stress. The first is that I believe that no real progress can be made unless your successor and the Lord Chancellor and the Board of HM Courts Service are willing and able to agree on a five-year strategy for taking our civil justice arrangements out of the doldrums and making them something we can all feel proud of again. The second is that the introduction of modern IT systems (including electronic filing and document management systems) will be essential if any such strategy is to have any prospect of success. The third is that the arrangements for handling contentious civil business in London fall woefully short of what this country, and Londoners in particular, should be entitled to expect. The fourth is that I am very hesitant about including any statistics at all in this report because I have found so many mistakes….

My central recommendations are these:

(1) The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice and HM Courts Service Board should agree upon a five-year strategy for reviving the civil justice system, to be implemented collaboratively by the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts Service.

(2) The strategy should include procedural reform, changes needed within the judiciary, adequate financing of the system on a long-term sustainable basis, the development and installation of the SUPS and EFDM systems and an adequate heavy-duty listing system, and the relocation of the Central London Trial Centre.

(3) A critical path should be agreed for the delivery of this strategy, with agreed annual reports to report progress.

Nobody was listening.

 

How much unhappiness and inefficiency and “hard-working taxpayers’ money” could have been saved if only the Treasury had been willing to listen all those years ago…

 

But at least they have started listening now.

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