Department for Transport system criticised by court users
Technology behind the Department for Transport’s ill-fated Transport Direct website, closed in 2014, is still being used to justify a controversial programme to close court buildings in England and Wales, it has emerged.
A consultation on the proposed closure of 91 courts as part of the Ministry of Justice’s efficiency programme ends this week. The ministry says that the need for physical premises can be cut by the use of technology and that the buildings picked for closure are within an hour’s travel of alternatives.
But court staff and regular users have challenged these assumptions, saying that the journey time calculations are based on theoretical driving time, without taking into account public transport timetables or local geographic factors.
According to today’s Law Society Gazette, HM Courts & Tribunals Service says the analysis of travel times is based on the Department for Transport’s Journey Planner tool. This was the enabling technology behind the Transport Direct website, which set out to create an all-purpose journey planner but was plagued with errors, such as once routing a journey from London to Eastbourne via Troon.
The site, originally justified partly on the basis that it might encourage car drivers to switch to public transport, also tended to underestimate driving times. Transport Direct was closed last year after Whitehall admitted that several private sector websites fulfilled the function.
The Law Society has called for 59 of the 91 courts to be saved. In its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation, the society said it was “seriously concerned” about the impact of the proposed closures, and cited a “worrying number” of factual errors in the consultation.These included calculating usage figures based on the wrong number of courtrooms, and proposing that a court be closed because it lacked modern IT, when in fact the technology had been installed.
“While a modernised court service and efficient use of technology would benefit all court users, this must not come at the expense of access to justice,” it added.