The battle to drag courts into the digital age is being won, a minister has insisted – with “a pile of paper as high as the Shard” no longer needed
Sir Oliver Heald delivered an upbeat update on the Government’s much-criticised modernisation programme, after long-running criticisms of data-gathering delays in the judicial system.
Two years ago, the National Audit Office highlighted ongoing weaknesses, including an inability to transfer data between courts, arrange prison visits online and enforce confiscation orders.
And the billion-pound programme was rocked in May by the unexpected resignation of its modernisation champion, Natalie Ceeney, after just 16 months in post.
The Courts and Tribunals Service's chief executive had been a strong advocate of 'virtual courts' to deal with preliminary hearings and minor cases, but had highlighted an initial lack of basic IT infrastructure.
Quizzed in the Commons about controversial court closures, Sir Oliver instead pointed to the successes of the strategy to “transform our courts and tribunals”.
He told MPs: “Modern technology improves efficiency and means that fewer people need to attend court in person.
“To give an impression of the tremendous improvement the court modernisation programme is making, it has been going for four months and six million pieces of paper have been avoided as a result.
“Yes, six million pieces of paper have been avoided by using digital case files. That is a pile of paper as high as the Shard - the largest building in London.”
In 2014, the NAO, Parliament’s spending watchdog, concluded it was “too early” to say whether the programme would be effective.
It warned: “There remains much to be done to tackle inefficiency and reduce the multiple points of failure within the system.
At that time, documents had to be copied and sent from the magistrates’ court to the Crown Court “physically or by email”.
And, on confiscation orders, it warned: “There are also numerous data errors, particularly in inputting information after court hearings.”