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Courts and Tribunals: Technology

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2016

7. What progress has been made on the modernisation programme to upgrade technology in the courts and tribunal estate. (904669)

I assure the hon. Lady that significant progress has been made to upgrade technology in the courts and tribunal estate. The vast majority of our criminal courts are now equipped to work digitally, and we are reducing reliance on paper bundles. New digital services such as in-court presentation, shared drives and wi-fi are enabling professional users, the judiciary and court staff to work digitally.

As the Minister knows, the magistrates court and the family and county court in Halifax are due to close. An answer to a recent written question revealed that overall investment plans for the courts and tribunal estate have not changed or been updated following the announcement that 86 courts were to close across the country. What plans are there to update the digitalisation programme to include measures that ensure that justice is accessible in areas that are soon to be without a court?

I know the hon. Lady takes this issue very seriously, and I want to assure her that it is at the top of the agenda in my regular meetings with the senior management of the Courts and Tribunals Service. A lot is happening, however, not all of which gets into the public domain. For example, we are reducing reliance on paper bundles in the criminal courts, and the digital case system in Southwark Crown court now holds over 94,000 pages of information that would otherwise have been printed in triplicate. Also, the new national automated rota system for magistrates, which is now live for 2,500 magistrates, has eliminated a complex and error-prone manual process.

I welcome the upgrading of technology in the traditional court setting—for example, for civil claims, the Rolls Building now takes claims on line—but will the Secretary of State also be implementing the more radical proposals of the Civil Justice Council to include an online dispute resolution service for low-value claims?

We are keen to have the most up-to-date and modern courts system in the world—one fit for the 21st century—and we are ruling nothing out.

The National Audit Office warned against focusing all our attention on technology, and not users, so what is being done to encourage buy-in from the legal profession and to help with training?

First, we need to recognise the world we live in, which is technologically advanced, and we are working closely with users, lawyers and everyone else involved in the legal process. I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that, at the moment, the buy-in from the judiciary, the lawyers and the public is very optimistic.