Lord chief justice announces commission of management consultancy in face of scepticism about IT based change
Senior judges have called in management consultancy Accenture to promote online courts and other ways of digital working to a sceptical judiciary, it has been revealed.
In a speech this week, Lord Burnett of Maldon (pictured), the lord chief justice, admitted that efforts to communicate the £1 bilion reform programme had so far failed.
In response, he said the Judicial Executive Board - the ruling council of the independent judiciary - has hired Accenture to draw up a document called Judicial Ways of Working: 2022. This will be circulated later this month.
Burnett pledged that “It is not another document telling you what is to be done to you. It is very much a document aimed at explaining and seeking your views and comment.”
He told representatives of district judges, who preside over magistrates’ and many county and family courts: “Judges are good at many things, but perhaps not communication of a major reform programme.”
The modernisation programme involves introducing paperless proceedings, online hearings and a new online court - together with the closure of many existing buildings. This is highly controversial among lawyers who are already up in arms over cuts to legal aid and plans to restrict the fees they can charge in damages cases.
In his speech, Burnett stressed that the justice system is still a digital laggard.
“Who now obtains insurance by filling in a proposal form and sending it in by post? Who does other than book an airline ticket online? The overdue use of modern technology could remove reams of paper files from cluttered court rooms and corridors,” he said.
On initiatives taken so far, Burnett revealed that some 1,500 people have taken up the pilot online divorce system since it was made available last July.
“The new online process takes applicants 25 minutes to complete… and the rejection rate has fallen to 0.5%,” he said.
Meanwhile the new online civil claims process was used 700 times in its first week of public availability. “On Maundy Thursday a claim was lodged online at 14.02 and had been paid by 16.00. That is the sort of service we should be providing the public."
He conceded that scepticism remains among judges,and the profession of barristers and solicitors from which they are recruited.“I often hear judges say reform is being ‘done to’ them, not with them, and for them.’
Judges, not robots
If it is any comfort to the lord chief justice, England and Wales are not alone. Across the channel, the Macron government is about to unveil plans to reform the justice system, involving rationalisation and online court hearings. The news brought 7,000 robed lawyers - one tenth of the entire profession - onto the streets of Paris last week in protest.
"We want judges, not robots," lawyers leader Christiane Féral-Schuhl told the demonstration.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0