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The government’s £1bn courts modernisation programme came under further fire from two parliamentary committees in the run-up to the dissolution of parliament.
Both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Justice Select Committee produced reports highlighting how the programme has gone over time and budget and has failed in its bid to replace physical courts with online alternatives, the Law Society Gazette reports.
In a statement, the Justice Committee said: “Had access to justice been the primary focus of the reforms, we do not think we would have received such a volume of evidence criticising the approach of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS)… [whose] enthusiasm for video-links and video-hearings is in sharp contrast to the views of people with first-hand experience of using this barely researched technology.”
The committee added that court closures have created “serious difficulties” for court users and that the implications for access to justice were “worrying”.
It added that no more courts should close “pending robust independent analysis” of the effects of the existing closures.
The PAC also slammed the decision to close 127 court buildings since 2015 (with 77 more closures planned in the next phase) and the delays in providing online alternatives.
Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The HMCTS ambitious modernisation programme continues to slip despite an extra year added to a much-extended timetable, while the revised schedule appears over-optimistic.’
The committee also asked HMCTS for more information about progress on the project, including an assessment of how reforms are affecting justice outcomes.
In response Susan Acland-Hood, HMCTS chief executive, said the MPs’ comments reflected the ‘ambitious and challenging nature of the programme’, but also recognised the progress being made. ‘Improving access to justice is at the heart of our programme and we will continue to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable as it progresses,’ she added.