Ministry says the justice system is ready to go online. Unfortunately its consultation was not.
The Ministry of Justice has offered to extend parts of its consultation into moving court proceedings online - because respondents have been unable to view two key documents on its website.
In an embarrassing admission of fallibility, it has told respondents to its Transforming our Justice System consultation: “It has been brought to our attention that two of the documents we are consulting on, the Online Convictions/Statutory Fixed Fine Impact Assessment & Equalities Statement, and the Panel Composition Equalities Statement, were not uploaded correctly when the consultation launched on 15 September.”
The documents were not properly loaded for more than two weeks, the ministry said. As a result it has extended the date for responses from 27 October to 10 November and 24 November respectively. People who have already responded may amend their response or submit new ones.
Transforming our justice system is a £1 billion programme of radical reform to civil and criminal courts announced by the justice secretary, Liz Truss, and leaders of the judiciary last month. Among other reforms, it proposes that many matters currently dealt with by the courts, including some low level criminal prosecutions, be moved online.
One of England and Wales’ most senior judges, Sir Ernest Ryder, told barristers at the weekend that online dispute resolution rather than physical court hearings “will become the norm for much of the less complex work in civil, family and tribunals jurisdictions”.
Responses to the consultation are likely to focus on digital exclusion and the risk of improper pressure being put on people to settle or plead guilty online.
Another concern is the threat to the principle of open justice. Finally, critics will point to Government’s track record in implementing large scale IT based transformation programmes - the latest glitch will do little to dispel their scepticism.