What is a Court?: A JUSTICE Working Party proposes a radical new approach

A JUSTICE Working Party tonight (17th May 2016) recommended a fresh, principled and research-driven approach to the configuration of the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales. Its report calls for a radical rethinking of what our court buildings should look like in order to respond to the demands of modern-day justice, with an emphasis on technology-driven solutions to provide timely and effective access for users.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is planning a large-scale programme of reform, which will both reduce the number of court and tribunal buildings, and invest heavily in technology to modernise and digitise court processes.

The court and tribunal estate is outdated and underperforming. It lacks the flexibility and technological capacity required by a modern justice system. Deep-seated conceptions of courthouses have impeded the modernisation of the estate.  This attitude has led to court closures being viewed as preventing access to justice, rather than a timely chance to reform.

The JUSTICE Working Party views this programme of reform as an opportunity to be seized. Although prompted by the demands of austerity, the HMCTS Reform Programme provides a catalyst to rationalise the estate, and maximise effective and accessible justice for all.

The JUSTICE Working Party of experts commenced its work in October 2015 in response to the HMCTS consultation on reform. As Alexandra Marks, Chair of the Working Party, explains:

“We see the HMCTS Reform Programme as a real opportunity to redesign outdated, inflexible and inefficient court buildings. Drawing on practical experience and research, our report proposes accessible, technology-driven, user-focussed solutions to delivering justice in the modern age”.

The Working Party emphasises the importance of technology, and its potential to meet user needs and maximise access to justice. All of the Working Party’s proposals are anchored in a commitment to a core set of principled considerations. Finally, the report makes practical recommendations aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of the HMCTS Reform Programme.

The Working Party recommends:

  • The reconception of court and tribunal rooms as ‘justice spaces’. This new model is defined by its inherent flexibility and rejection of the over-standardisation prevalent in existing courts and tribunals. Justice spaces are designed to adapt to the particular dispute resolution process taking place within them, and the needs of users, rather than the other way around.
  • A flexible and responsive court and tribunal estate, made up of a number of dynamic parts. The Working Party suggests a portfolio of Flagship Justice Centres; Local Justice Centres; ‘Pop-up courts’; remote access justice facilities; and digital justice spaces.

Alexandra Marks was joined on the Working Party by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, His Honour Nicholas Coleman, Andrea Coomber, Amanda Finlay CBE, Andrew Lockley, George Lubega, Professor Linda Mulcahy, Nadia O’Mara (Rapporteur), Professor Martin Partington CBE QC, Her Honour Isobel Plumstead, HHJ Daniel Pierce-Higgins, Pat Thomas OBE, Karamjit Singh CBE and Caroline Sheppard. Their work was kindly supported by Nabarro LLP.

Read the full report.

Read a summary and highlights from the launch in the press release.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals giving the opening address at the launch of ‘What is a Court?’

'What is a Court' launch event