Completion of the court modernisation programme has been pushed back again, this time to March 2024, it has emerged.
The move was revealed by the chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Nick Goodwin, in a blog, rather than in a Ministry of Justice announcement.
What was initially in 2016 a four-year project was soon extended to six years, and in 2019 completion was pushed back another year to 2023.
HMCTS had planned to complete the reforms this month, but built a nine-month contingency period into the timetable.
In its recent critical report on the programme, the National Audit Office (NAO) noted that HMCTS was “considering an extension to the timetable following increased delivery risk”.
That has now come to pass, with all remaining civil, family and tribunal services set to be implemented by March 2024, Mr Goodwin said.
He acknowledged that “trying to change too much, too quickly has undermined confidence at times”.
He added: “But I want to assure you that we’re continuing to learn from our experiences and feedback, and I’m confident we can do better.
“So we’ve taken stock and looked realistically at what we can achieve and by when. As a result we’ve adjusted certain elements of the reform programme. Our revised schedule minimises overlap and allows more preparation time.
“We have the full support of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals in making these adjustments.”
In the criminal courts, HMCTS will continue to implement the case management system, Common Platform, into remaining Crown and magistrates’ courts by the summer – it is in 76% of courts so far – and develop “further functionality” to enable all case types to be processed on the system.
Integration with the scheduling and listing tool, List Assist, and enhanced case progression functionality will follow after they have been tested for longer in early adopter courts.
“This may take a little longer but means the end result will be better, with more time to prepare and support all of our users.”
In family, HMCTS was prioritising work to improve and embed the family public law service, before introducing the new private law functionality, he went on.
“In civil, we are making really good progress in extending functionality to our newly reformed systems. We’ll take a measured approach, delivering the remaining services in online civil money claims, civil enforcement, bulk claims and damages over the next year.
“We’ll also be completing the reform of employment, immigration and social security and child support tribunals.”
The scheduling and listing tool will be integrated with the reformed civil, family and tribunal case management systems.
To complete these prioritised projects, HMCTS will “pause” digital reform work on adoption and possession, as well as work on special tribunals, except for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.
Mr Goodwin argued that the programme has “achieved a huge amount already”, with HMCTS’s digital services used over 2.1 million times so far.
Examples of progress included cases submitted digitally through the social security and child support service taking a third of the time to complete compared to those submitted on paper, while over a quarter of online immigration and asylum appeals were settled early in the process without the need for a hearing.
Mr Goodwin attributed the delays in part to Covid and the pressure to deal with the high number of outstanding cases.
“At the same time, [staff and justice partners are] implementing a demanding rate of change to ways of working as we deliver the final stages of the reform programme (which are also integral to our recovery work).
“I know that the twin demands of reform and recovery have been immensely challenging for everyone working within the justice system.”
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said: “Mistakes were made early on and HMCTS’ acknowledgement that it tried to ‘change too much, too quickly’ should help restore some confidence in the next steps of the reform…
“We hope that by allowing more time to carry out reforms these will be better and more effective.”
She noted that interim evaluation of the reforms, which was due last December, has yet to be published.
The NAO report said HMCTS had put delivery “at pace” before “sustainable change” and called for it to focus on “achieving the anticipated benefits of the reforms”.
The NAO said that “of most concern” was the “delayed” and “unpopular” Common Platform, which had actually placed more pressure on the system.