Uptake of the UK’s new online justice offering has picked up, with 150,000 people making use of the service in 2018, the government said this week.
The UK government has invested £1 billion in modernising the court system, with a focus on shifting to online services in a bid to reduce delays and cut costs.
New services introduced in 2018 include the ability to apply for a divorce online, and make pleas for the low-level motoring offences that previously clogged up magistrates’ courts.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer welcomed the numbers in a government release describing them as “encouraging” and “a better-fit around their busy lives.”
Issues and Extensions
In 2016 the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) proposed a raft of changes designed to introduce new working practices and improve integration of new technology into the courts process. Government aspirations are high: by 2023 HMCTS aims to reduce staffing levels by 5,000 employees by reducing cases held in physical courtrooms by 2.5 million cases per year, as well as moving more process online. HMCTS expects to reduce annual spending by £265 million.
However, the roll-out has encountered several issues.
In a report last year by the National Audit Office (NAO) it found that the timescale to complete the reforms has been reset twice, noting: “The revised six-year timescale for the reforms is still shorter than the time taken to complete smaller programmes in other countries. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s most recent assurance review concluded that successful delivery of the programme was in doubt, and that there were major risks or issues in a number of key areas.”
It is also potentially facing a funding gap as the HMCTS plans to pay for charges using funding from the Treasury which has provided £810 million. Yet the NAO found that: “The business case projects a funding shortfall of £61 million, assuming that HM Treasury will agree that all previous years’ underspends can be carried forward.”
“Without this agreement, the funding gap could be £177 million. Underspends have arisen because of delays to projects or the two-year extension in the timetable.”
UK Online Court
Over 39,000 civil money claims have been processed, however since that services launch last March. In one example of the progress made, a civil money claim was lodged, viewed and paid out in under two hours. The errors in applications have also been cut from 40 percent to less than 1 percent, claimed the justice department.
As of last year married couples in England and Wales are also able to apply for divorce online. Since its launch in April the service has seen more than 23,000 applications. (Some 102,007 divorces took place in England and Wales in 2017, representing a decrease of five percent on the previous year.)
Official figures from the Christmas holidays show that 13 people used the service to apply for divorce on Christmas day, with the HM Courts & Tribunals Service also logging 455 online applications between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
New Services Rolled Out Over Time
As the programme matures, new service are expected to come online. Last year service such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowances came online. Over 3,300 PIP appeals were submitted to the service since that its launch in July 2018.
People can also use the new online justice to submit pleas for low-level offences such as Transport for London fare evasions, which saw 1,400 pleas, or general low-level motoring offences which received 81,000 plea applications.
The online services been rolled out are part of the SmarterGov campaign launched to drive innovation and reduce cost within government departments. The Online court reform is expecting to have 100 services available online by 2020.