16 October 2019
Legal Professionals find ‘corporate HMCTS is out of touch with the day-to-day reality of the justice system’
The findings of the latest independent stakeholder audit into the £1 billion HMCTS Court Reform Programme, are in no way surprising, says the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Echoing a number of criticisms voiced by CILEx on multiple occasions, the damning report highlights deep-rooted problems with HMCTS engagement, leading to negative perceptions and a general distrust amongst legal professionals.
The audit found that: “Legal professionals are significantly less likely than average to say that they trust HMCTS overall … from discussions with legal professionals, it is clear that for some this distrust stems from feeling that corporate HMCTS is out of touch with the day-to-day reality of the justice system.”
CILEx has previously raised concerns that implementation of the reform programme’s multiple projects and pilots have overlooked the very professionals who keep the system running. With arbitrary timeframes pushing for premature court closures and risking staff shortages, these reforms have placed additional strain on an already fragile justice system.
The independent audit, conducted by BMG Research, utilised a multi-phased approach, and came following direct recommendations from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in 2018. Drawing from interview findings with legal professionals and public user group representatives, the report includes recommendations to improve awareness of the progress of HMCTS reforms and other activities. Crucially, it emphasises ways to improve the timeliness of relevant communications and materials in advance of engagement opportunities so that “legal professionals can make sure they and/or their colleagues have the time to assist” and “allow stakeholders to engage more effectively”.
CILEx made similar calls earlier this year in its response to the Justice Committee Inquiry on the Access to Justice Impacts of Court and Tribunal Reforms. Herein, CILEx noted improved engagement with HMCTS at a wider strategic level, but stressed that this had not been replicated within individual projects of reform where engagement with practitioners is most critical for testing and continuous improvement.
CILEx is aware of changes introduced by HMCTS earlier this August to improve participation of legal professionals in relevant projects and pilots, having contracted the services of research agency, Cragg Ross Dawson, to help manage stakeholder engagement and communications going forward. It is hoped that this line of work, alongside the recommendations put forward by BMG in its stakeholder audit, are used to truly strengthen HMCTS engagement with legal practitioners, not just in quantity but in quality.
"Timely communication, increased coordination within the research process, and ongoing practitioner input shall be critical to driving these reforms forward in a manner that is consistent with the reality of legal practice, court usage and the justice system as a whole", says CILEx.
Click here to read the HMCTS Stakeholder Audit.