The government has announced an investment of up to £375m to modernise HM Courts & Tribunals Service over the second half of the decade.
It is central to a “programme of reform” that will deliver savings in excess of £100m per year by 2019/20.
Acknowledging that “the system is currently configured in a way that perpetuates delays and costs as staff time is wasted on manual data entry and paper-based processes”, the Treasury has agreed a one-off package of investment averaging up to £75m per annum over the five years from 2015/16.
The current range of “outdated” computer systems will be replaced with a single integrated system which will allow electronic case management, while there will be an online self-service system, which will allow legal professionals and other users to complete court and tribunal forms and make payments digitally for court fees or to initiate claims for debt repayment, personal injury or housing disputes.
There will also be an increased use of videolinks, digital presentation of documentation in court and WiFi for legal practitioners.
The announcement said the estate of 500 court and tribunal buildings would be modernised to improve facilities and reduce costs, for example by enabling hearings from different jurisdictions to occur in the same building.
There will be “more effective use of courtrooms to ensure that all cases that are scheduled to be heard are not delayed when other hearings overrun”, an upgrade of facilities for victims and witnesses, and a refurbishment of advocates’ rooms.
“Once more services are made available online, users and the legal profession should only need to attend a court or tribunal when it is absolutely necessary,” it said.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: “Technology will be updated and replaced in courts and tribunals across the country, working practices will be speeded up and modernised, and the court and tribunal estate will be significantly refurbished, making better use of buildings, reducing the ongoing cost of maintenance and providing improved services for court and tribunal users, particularly vulnerable victims and witnesses. Justice will continue to be delivered locally, and access to justice maintained.”
In a joint statement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Jeremy Sullivan, said: “Individuals and businesses, domestically and internationally, rely upon our justice system to enforce their rights in a timely manner and to uphold the rule of law. This investment in our courts and tribunals administration, with a programme of reforms to IT, working practices and estates, will uphold this most fundamental function of the state and maintain the international reputation of our justice system.
“The reform programme will provide the administration of justice with a sustainable infrastructure for the future, meeting the needs of the public, legal profession and justice agencies.”