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Civil Service union threatens strike over courts’ Common Platform

06/12/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has claimed the support of its members for possible strike action against HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) over claimed shortcomings in the Common Platform digital system.

The union has also called for a suspension of the use of the system in courts in England and Wales.

It has reported that 96.3% of members who voted in a ballot supported strike action if HMCTS “fails to act reasonably” in response to its complaints. Turnout was 57.2%.

This follows a stream of complaints in the year since the system’s launch that it has consistently failed to work effectively and been a major cause of stress to employees of HMCTS.

“These results send a very clear message to HMCTS that they must now act and completely suspend the Common Platform,” PCS said. “Failure to do so will result in the progression of PCS members’ desire for a statutory strike action ballot.”

It added that it will provide a further update in due course.

The platform has been developed to provide secure access to up-to date case information for all the parties involved in criminal cases – including the judiciary, solicitors and barristers, the Crown Prosecution Service and court staff. But the union said there are continued problems with its performance and accuracy and it is causing court takers to work long hours.

No risk assessment

Among the union’s complaints are that HMCTS had not carried out an organisational risk assessment of deployment of the platform and that its use in its current form is unsustainable.

It added that going ahead with the deployment during the Covid-19 lockdowns has made things worse.

In response, it has made a series of demands, including that the risk assessment should take place, no new cases should be added to the system, HMCTS should carry out a stress survey of all the users, that it should disclose feedback from early adopter sites and there should be no further job losses arising from the implementation.

HMCTS responded with a statement that: “We are committed to working with staff and unions on the rollout of the Common Platform. “The welfare of our staff is a priority and they have been involved from the start in designing and implementing a system that will revolutionise the way that the criminal justice system is administered.”

It acknowledged there have been pressures on staff and said the roll out has been paused for the rest of the calendar year, that it is aiming to improve the systems and train staff to use it effectively. It also has plans for administrative hubs under which some of the work will be processed for a transitionary period.

It reiterated its position that the system will cut down on duplication and wasted time for administrative teams.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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