A top official at the National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the government’s plan for delivering wide-ranging court reforms, and whether the timeline for the proposed changes is realistic.

Yvonne Gallagher, the NAO’s director of digital, speaking during an online Westminster Legal Policy Forum last week, queried the need to implement wide-ranging reforms at the same time as keeping daily service running. 

She also questioned whether the published timeline was achievable, given the technical complexities of the reforms, and raised concerns that important stages had been skipped without due consideration.

Ms Gallagher asked:

“Here we have a major programme… Do we really have the capability and capacity to do all of this? Do we need to go more slowly? Do we need to narrow the scope? How can we break this up? Do we have the know-how?…Do we need to buy it in?”

Delays in the original timetable for rollout of the common platform – a new case management system designed to improve access to criminal case information were a specific concern.

However, Ms Gallagher’s comments came after the acting chief executive of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Kevin Sadler, had addressed the seminar and said that feedback from existing users of the reformed courts reported satisfaction rates that private sector organisations would ‘want to kill for’.

Mr Sadler also reported that digital services were being widely used and that more than 100,000 divorce applications, over 90,000 probate applications and over 160,000 civil money claims had been submitted online so far.

In addition, 90% of court and tribunal hearings now involved some form of remote technology, and over 70,000 such hearings had been conducted in 150 magistrates’ courts and 70 Crown Courts.