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Court System: Modernisation

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2017

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer Question 19 together with Questions 20 and 24. We are investing £1 billion in the modernisation of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. This summer, we launched the first online courts pilots, covering divorce, social security and civil money claims. In October, I visited the Manchester civil justice centre and saw some of that work first hand.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman had not asked in advance for my agreement to the grouping, but I am nevertheless happy to provide it. Presumably, the request was not made to my office on account of the expectation that we would not get this far, but Ministers ought to know better by now; we do tend to make quite quick progress. We will take supplementary questions from those who are here—I think at least one is not.

Part of the problem with the courts system is that the lay person does not understand the jargon. Will my right hon. Friend examine how we can improve communication within the system so that the ordinary man on the street can understand what is going on in court proceedings?

I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, if there was a mess-up in communications with your office.

In response to my hon. Friend, as we test and pilot the online court proposals it is important to ensure that the process is stripped of legal jargon so that our constituents—men and women who may have no particular knowledge or experience of the technicalities of law—are able easily to understand, follow and use the process.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on public legal education and pro bono, I was wondering whether my right hon. Friend had made any assessment of how the online process will save many people who go to small claims courts from unnecessary stress and hassle when all they are often trying to do is resolve a simple money claim.

Having tried out the small money claims process, my view is that it provides a user-friendly way for a consumer to seek redress from somebody against whom they have a claim. So far, more than 3,000 people have used the pilots that I have described, and they have received straightforward digital access to our courts.

Order. I would call Mr Courts to ask about courts if he were here and given the likely affinity that he would feel towards the subject, but he is not, so I cannot.

I wrote to the Government in October to ask about the impact of the closure of Oldham magistrates court and county court, but they said they do not collect data on non-attendance. How on earth can the Government know about the impact of closures if they do not collect that data?

When a proposal is made to close any court centre there is a public consultation, which enables representations to be made and evidence to be looked at seriously. Such a consultation is always accompanied by an analysis of the travel times, both by car and by public transport, for people who use the court centre scheduled for closure to attend the proposed alternative. These things are considered in detail.

In the context of court modernisation, will the Secretary of State look at making the courts more transparent, particularly by allowing defendants and those who have been sentenced to get court transcripts and copies of the judge’s direction to the jury? Especially in cases of potential miscarriage of justice, it can be incredibly difficult to get that information.

I would like to take away and reflect on the serious points made by the hon. Lady. Obviously the conduct of a trial in court is a matter for the trial judge, but I will look seriously at the issue and write to her when I have had the chance to take advice on the matter.