MoJ wants “exponential increase” in dispute resolution tools

Goodwin: Learned lessons from court modernisation programme

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants to see an “exponential increase” in dispute resolution tools like the Official Injury Claims (OIC) portal, its director of access to justice policy has said.

Farah Ziaulla hailed the OIC as an “exemplar of how a future dispute resolution system could begin”, having shown government “working with industry to provide digital innovations at no cost to the taxpayer”.

Speaking at Wednesday’s Westminster Legal Policy Forum conference on court modernisation, Ms Ziaulla said the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, shared this vision.

Litigants in person, who only account for less than 10% of OIC users, settled more quickly and for similar amounts than those with representation, she went on.

Ms Ziaulla said the court modernisation programme had laid a “really solid foundation” for the future of the justice system.

The Online Procedure Rules Committee will hold its first meeting next month.

Ms Ziaulla said it would be “at the forefront of delivering digital pre-action dispute systems” and ensuring that cases were transferred “seamlessly” to the rest of the system.

“Rules will be simple and easy to understand, to ensure access to justice for the vulnerable and digitally disadvantaged.”

Earlier in the session Nick Goodwin, chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), said the court modernisation programme “had not got everything right first time”, but had learned on the way and “our experience will help in the final push to the line”.

He said the Nightingale courts had been “pretty invaluable” in providing extra capacity in the criminal justice system, allowing the Crown Courts to concentrate on hearing cases where individuals were remanded in custody and providing a “template for a flexible model” in terms of future need.

Meanwhile, HMCTS was working “really hard” to get civil justice, which was also suffering from backlogs, “back to where it should be”.

Mr Goodwin said that with “extra judicial support”, the civil system was “beginning to see green shoots” of recovery and he was hoping for further improvement.

He added that, by the end of the court reform programme, 85% of tribunal cases would start online, 90% of civil cases and 100% of family cases.

He said the much-criticised Common Platform was now in 78% of criminal courts and had handled 300,000 cases.

Mr Goodwin said Covid had “quite an impact” on the reform programme and underlined the importance of digital justice in making the system more resilient.

While the criminal justice system was working at “absolute full capacity”, the roll-out of the Common Platform led HMCTS to “take stock” of the situation.

“It was not really possible to maintain the necessary efforts and implement reform at the same rate. We revised the original plan and paused some elements.”

Mr Goodwin said HMCTS would continue to roll out the Common Platform “in a much more measured way” until March 2025.

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