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23rd Feb 2023

National Audit Office report on court reform exposes further data weaknesses

Today, the National Audit Office has published a Progress on the courts and tribunals reform programme, a report on HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS’s) reform programme.

Commenting on the report, Director of the Justice Lab, Dr Natalie Byrom, said:

“This report exposes significant weaknesses in the design, planning and implementation of the reform programme with serious consequences for the operation of the justice system.

New digital systems were and are necessary to increase efficiency of the courts and improve the experience of users. But HMCTS has, for too long, given too little attention and focus to ensuring that such changes improve access to justice.

The continued failure to implement in full the draft data strategy I drew up in 2018 has left HMCTS without a fully effective means of collecting and managing data, and the NAO is the latest in a long line of authoritative sources to reflect the lack of information available to HMCTS to understand the effects of reform and its impact on users.

The continuing problems of the Common Platform highlighted by the report are of particular concern as they have put the public at risk. As the NAO makes clear in its findings [paragraphs 11 and 12], HMCTS has not used data effectively to collect and respond to user concerns and problems, and has failed to create data-driven standards against which to assess the impact of reforms. This will need to be fixed urgently.

Where HMCTS has accepted my data strategy recommendations and implemented changes, such as starting to collect data on certain protected characteristics within several of its online services, this has given it the infrastructure to identify problems and how to fix them.

For example, the report highlights the discovery that probate and divorce services cases from ethnic minority users are taking longer to resolve, and HMCTS now have the opportunity to understand and identify what the underlying causes are.”

  • Listen to our Director, Dr Natalie Byrom, discuss Common Platform on File on 4.