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Courts Service to up the ante on digital divorce and probate

Acland-Hood: Convinced of need for reform

The next year of the court modernisation programme will see digital end-to-end services for divorce, probate, and money claims for under £10,000, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

Writing in its business plan for 2018/19 [1], published last week, chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said she was “more convinced than ever both that we need [the programme] and that we can make it work”.

HMCTS is building on various achievements in the first year, such as enabling people to issue divorce petitions and apply for probate online.

The activities for the next year are aimed both at improving current services and delivering on modernisation; they focus on its people, systems and processes, and estate.

On systems and processes, the business plan said users could expect to see “a digital end-to-end service for applications to legally end a marriage or civil partnership and resolve financial issues, probate services, and for social security and child support appeal applications – replacing the current paper-based process”.

Citizens would also be able to resolve civil money claims under £10,000, “in a simple end-to-end digital service that is both streamlined and automated”.

The business plan also said HMCTS would expand the ‘Single Justice Service’ to TV licensing prosecutions, as well as introduce online plea for Transport for London cases, “enabling cases to be processed quickly online rather than on paper”.

In addition, it would complete the national roll-out of digital summons for jurors, enabling people to respond to summons for jury service online.

Ms Acland-Hood said the reform programme was needed “because HMCTS is full of dedicated people working hard, but the whole is still less than the sum of the parts; and our systems, processes and ways of working don’t match the passion and commitment of our people.

“We also need it because we owe it to all those who touch the system – who often come to us at difficult points in their lives. We can and we should take advantage of what technology can offer, and think completely differently about how we make justice accessible.

“And I know that we can make it work because we have begun, and begun well.”

Other goals for the next year included “optimis[ing] our hearing capacity through closures and amalgamations of buildings to allow us to better focus funding on those buildings we need for the future”.