More mediation, no bundles for SCCO but more money for Modernisation: something for everyone

Once again this took place at the MoJ, 102 Petty France with, I reckon, 200+ delegates.

Sidonie Kingsmill, HMCTS Customer Director, started proceedings with a summary of the three key objectives underpinning their Modernisation Programme and gave an explanation of current status of the stand-out projects.

This was followed by presentations in the key areas of Tribunals, Civil, Family and Crime.  Other sessions followed entitled: “How will we support users so they can access services?”, “How will we know reform is successful?” and “What will going to Court look like in the future?”

The event was wound up by Sir Robin Knowles who, rightly, gave thanks to the team that had delivered the event and finished with a tribute to changing culture.  The Judiciary, Sir Robin explained, together with HMCTS, MoJ, the Legal Aid Agency, Professions and all other users, including LiPs, were learning from each other and progress, albeit slow to begin with, was gathering pace.   The most important thing to put in place, he explained, was data capture to inform the reforms of the future from an empirical not anecdotal basis.

Break-outs ran simultaneously and I attended the Family reform presentation by HMCTS Deputy Director Lennon and Jessie Brener discussion of the work of the Ministry of Justice’s Data and Analytical Services Directorate’s Evidence, Engagement and Experimentation Unit (yes, interesting title – the EEG Unit) which provides the independent evaluation of whether the reforms are achieving the required aims.

From conversations around the event I gained insights about progress with Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC), a real success story for HMCTS, CE File project, the funding issue for the Modernisation Programme (due to end this year) and the redundancy programme.

Progress is clearly being made with digitising the nuts and bolts of much of the citizen’s interaction with the Courts.  Part of this work involves reducing the number of times paper moves from one place to another with access to digitised documents using the internet.  This enables the Courts to realise efficiencies and reduce costs.  A good example was given by Deputy Director Lennon when he explained that Consent Orders in Family work can now be approved and signed by Judges irrespective where they may originate.  This is because they are held in digital format and the paper file no longer needs to follow the Judge to wherever he or she is sitting.  The power of the internet!  HMCTS have come a long way since the ill-fated eWorking project in the Commercial Court was abandoned in 2012.

As to assessing whether the reforms are working Ms Brener made clear that much work remained to be done.  The EEG Unit had only recently been formed and was still evaluating how to obtain data and what the themes of the data analysis should be.   An interim report was promised for 2021 with a final report to be published in 2023.  However, as I learned, by 2023 either the EEG Unit’s conclusions will be too late to influence the delivery of the digital systems or the funding for the Modernisation Programme will have ended.  Not the first time such funding has been pulled and those with longer memories will recall the withdrawal in 2006 of the funding for Electronic Filing and Document Management (EFDM).

This funding issue arises because the original funding agreement with HM Treasury (the Financial Settlement) was agreed in 2015 to run for 5 years i.e. until 2020 when the Modernisation Programme was originally intended to be complete.  The Financial Settlement requires MoJ to reduce a third of its workforce (ca 5,600 Staff) in 2019-2020 because, the thinking went, the Modernisation Programme would make such Staff, well, redundant.  Instead digitisation is behind schedule and creating a problem situation.  The good news is that the Financial Settlement has been extended although not for as long as HMCTS need.  The level of the extended funding remains, I was told, “fuzzy” with the detail to be agreed after the General Election.  Regrettably the redundancy requirements of the Financial Settlement remain in place.

OCMC is performing well, liked by users and began its opt-out mediation service a full 3 months ahead of schedule – in September 2019.  Another example of the use of mandatory mediation and other forms of ADR by the civil courts in England and Wales.  OCMC’s mediation scheme is provided by court officers who have qualified as mediators and is delivered by phone to parties in claims of less than £300.  It is to be reviewed next Spring/Summer when the value of claims within the scope of the mediation scheme may be increased to cover more claims.  72 cases have been through the scheme with a 50% success rate (i.e. the mediation resolved the claims).  Although this is a lower success rate than with voluntary mediations it was noted that the number of cases through the system is very low nevertheless this is 36 cases not proceeding to trial and that is a good thing.

I gather the Whiplash Portal remains on track although the talk at the event was that everything hangs on the incoming Government’s priorities.  Apparently a lot of work was done by a lot of people on the Whiplash Portal during the Summer.

The progress of CE File in the RCJ, Upper Tribunals and, most recently, in the Senior Courts Costs Office continues.  However, contrary to some reports, there are no plans to acquire the bundle module of C-Track (which is the proprietary name for CE File) from Thomson Reuters.  This is because, I was told, HMCTS are building their own bundling program – delivery date unspecified.

A very useful day.  If you missed it look out for the event next November.

I am happy to try to answer questions arising from this, if I can!  Just email tonyguise@disputesefiling.com

The slides and factsheets from the event are available via this link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-hosts-3rd-annual-public-user-event?utm_medium=email&utm_source=