2021-10-07 | Peter Nanayakara
Aus tech drives efficiency in UK justice system
In 2020, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in England and Wales, was at a turning point. Its scheduling and listing system was being managed using a variety of systems, from paper-based files to tools based on Outlook diaries, and the courts and tribunals needed to find a way to significantly modernise.
The UK operates the largest common law system in the world. Four times the size of the Australian court system, it has over 500 courts and tribunals, and 121 prisons that service millions of people each year. It needed to find a way to create greater certainty for the judiciary and all parties throughout the listing and scheduling process and to improve the overall standard of service in accessing justice.
An administrative issue at its core
MoJ recognised that to bring HMCTS into the 21st century would require a complete rethink and investment in innovative technology that would allow it to manage the network to have a better real-time overview of capacity and resources across the system. While an administrative problem at its core, fixing this would reduce delays to counteract the detrimental impact on costs and social issues of cases and hearings that often blow out by several months, or even years.
After an extensive global search, Australian technology company ReadyTech was chosen as the new software provider for the Scheduling and Listing service as part of a £1bn reform program introduced in 2016 by HMCTS to increase access to justice in the courts and tribunals system. The MoJ made an initial £6m investment into the Australian technology outfit, and by autumn 2022 its software is expected to be fully deployed, bringing all the scheduling and listing activity into a single SaaS cloud platform.
ReadyTech’s caseHQ software is rolling out across courts and tribunals in England and Wales, to help increase the quality of service offered to the public and legal professionals. The technology allows better use of hearing spaces; reduces administrative tasks so skilled staff can focus on the more complex areas of hearing management; and provides greater confidence that hearings will proceed when scheduled. Marking a significant step in HMCTS’s reform program, initial feedback from the national technology rollout shows it is having a real impact.
Mitigating wait times
In the UK, the criminal justice system has been under the spotlight as backlog in the Crown courts reached 54,000 unheard cases in early 2021, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in criminal courts can be particularly detrimental as while victims wait long periods for cases to be heard, many withdraw from prosecutions because they lose faith in the process. Witnesses often find it difficult to recall events that took place months ago, and prosecutors waste significant time and resources preparing for cases that do not proceed.
The HMCTS example has shown that technology can play a key role in mitigating wait times and related inefficiencies that are latent in the system. The Crown Court in the UK has implemented several initiatives to help deliver swifter justice, one being the increased use of new technology.
Importantly, ReadyTech’s technology platform also generates data to deliver insights that allow the system to be managed even more efficiently and devote resources where they are needed most. For example, it shows the improvements in how effectively people with protected characteristics are accessing courts and tribunals, which includes victims of highly sensitive crimes such as domestic violence, which became more prevalent during the pandemic.
The local story
Here in Australia, similar pain points exist across a more fragmented justice system. However, the scale and magnitude of ReadyTech’s project with the MoJ should provide some comfort that there is a flexible solution available. For example, in Magistrates’ Courts across Australia, the busiest and largest jurisdiction within the court system of states and territories, there has been a substantial rise in the backlog of cases pending over six to 12 months in 2021. While allowing for the unusual circumstances of COVID-19, the latest NSW Auditor-General’s Report has flagged that the Department was using outdated technology prone to failure, and continuing to use it poses an increased risk of court delays.
Some of Australia’s smaller justice agencies, such as South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Fair Work Australia, Veterans Review Board and The Tasmanian Department of Justice, had already begun using certain modules of ReadyTech’s CaseHQ technology before it was adopted by HMCTS. However, the project with the HMCTS has demonstrated CaseHQ can assist to support a large-scale operation that encompasses the complete case management lifecycle, which larger organisations within the Australian justice systems could look to use as they too bring their own systems into the 21st century.
Originally published on GovTech Review.