March 24, 2021
The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report “Key Challenges Facing the Ministry of Justice”, produced in response to the unprecedented pressures on the justice system which have been compounded by COVID-19. The report highlights the: “significant risks” that the Ministry of Justice faces across the full range of its services and the impact of “huge backlogs” on access to justice. In a statement about the report Meg Hillier MP, PAC Chair, concluded “Our justice system is besieged on all sides and it is not clear the MoJ has a firm grip on this challenge even with a desperately needed funding boost.”
The Public Accounts Committee’s report calls on MoJ to act urgently to improve the data that is collected on court users and justice outcomes, echoing concerns raised by TLEF in our report on the impact of Covid-19 on court users that: “the Ministry is overly relying on the potential of technology to manage the increased demand in the court system, without yet having a clear understanding of how the rapid expansion of remote justice impacts on court users or justice outcomes”. The Committee further criticises the lack of tangible progress in implementing the recommendations of the Foundation’s 2019 Digital Justice Report and calls on the MoJ to set out, in its Treasury Minute response, its plans to implement the recommendations in that report.
TLEF Director of Research Dr Natalie Byrom says: “This report from the Public Accounts Committee provides striking and welcome recognition of the vital importance of investing in data and implementing the recommendations of the Foundation’s 2019 Digital Justice report. Data is not a “nice to have”, it is essential to run an effective, fair and efficient justice system.
COVID-19 makes work to tackle systemic deficiencies in the data held by HMCTS more crucial, not less. As the Committee rightly states, without data it is impossible to understand which interventions are most successful in tackling the backlog. Urgent action to improve the data that HMCTS collects in line with the recommendations they have agreed to from our Digital Justice Report is required. HMCTS now needs to receive the dedicated, ring-fenced funding required to implement our recommendations. Without this, the MoJ will be unable to grip the challenges facing the justice system and provide justice for victims, offenders and taxpayers”
On 2 October 2019, The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF) published ‘Digital Justice: HMCTS data strategy and delivering access to justice’ following a three month secondment by its Director of Research, Dr Natalie Byrom, into HMCTS as an expert adviser on open data. The Report set out a blueprint of 29 recommendations for evaluating the impact of the government’s court reform programme, and for ensuring the needs of all court users are understood and fully met in the move to digital justice. If the report is adopted in full, the UK could become a world leader in delivering digital justice for all. On 9 October 2020, HMCTS published a response to this report, accepting in principle the overwhelming majority of its recommendations.
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