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Court and Tribunal Estate Consultation

Volume 660: debated on Monday 13 May 2019

On 10 May I published the response to the “Fit for the future: transforming the court and tribunal estate” consultation. It sets out how decisions regarding the future of the estate should be made and makes clear that people will continue to be able to access courts and tribunals while providing value for money for the taxpayer and ensuring long-term efficiency.

The consultation published in January 2018, has been developed to complement HMCTS’ £1 billon reform programme, which is bringing new technology and modern ways of working to the justice system, making it more accessible for everyone. It received 249 responses and as a result, the response published today, strengthens and updates the principles underpinning future decisions relating to changes to our estate. It ensures that:

When visits to courts are necessary, travel times and ease of transport will continue to be prioritised—with added support for vulnerable users

Court and tribunal buildings will be fit for purpose and can be maintained at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer

Specialist front-of-house staff will be at courts to support the public and legal professionals, and will be trained in new technologies

The estate is aligned with the reform programme

The provision for hearings in physical court rooms will remain essential for the fair, just and proportionate delivery of justice. Yet we anticipate that fewer interactions with the court and tribunals system will happen in this way. Any future changes to the court estate which result in the relocation of a service from a local area will be consulted on publicly before a decision is made, using the criteria set out in the Fit for the Future principles.

We expect the modernisation being delivered by the reform programme to provide additional routes to justice and as a result lead to a reduction in the use of our court and tribunal buildings. These modem channels will be additional to, rather than substitutions for, existing routes. We make a commitment that we will not act on assumptions by proposing to close courts unless we have sound evidence that the reforms are actually reducing the use of those buildings.

Naturally, with an estate of this size there may be changes in demand for reasons other than uptake of digital services, and in those circumstances, it may be sensible to close or merge courts. Furthermore, this consultation has no effect on previously announced closures which will go ahead as planned.

Our response to the consultation addresses several concerns which we have committed to improving. One is that journeys to and from court should be reasonable and, for the overwhelming majority of users, this would be one that allowed them to leave home no earlier than 7.30am, attend their hearing and return home by 7.30pm the same day by public transport. We also set out how we will measure this commitment and what other factors we will consider, for example, the circumstances of users including those that are vulnerable.

The consultation was broadly positive about proposals regarding the design of our court and tribunal buildings and reinforced the need for the security of those who use and work in our courts and tribunals to be paramount and for ensuring suitable facilities for vulnerable users. This is reflected in the new “Court and tribunal design guide” published today.

Our revised principles will strengthen and guide our analysis and assessment when we consider future changes. It will better align the management of our estate to the wider modernisation of our services and will make sure the court and tribunal estate remains fit for the 21st century.

Court and tribunal design guide

Alongside fit for the future, HMCTS has also published a new Court and tribunal design guide. This has been developed after engaging with user groups, to make sure the guide improves the experience for court and tribunal users, while providing value for the taxpayer.

It provides the standards for refurbishment and redevelopment of existing and future court and tribunal buildings. It aims to enable optimum use of facilities and improve user experience and, along with the key elements of safety and security, sets out five principles that must be incorporated into any building design. These principles define that court and tribunal buildings must be appropriate, effective, accessible, flexible and sustainable.

The guide was developed through extensive engagement with court and tribunal users to ensure standards and designs meet their needs. The “fit for the future” consultation sought views on the proposed principles and approach to improving the design of court and tribunal buildings and a total of 181 responses were received.

The guide will be used by HMCTS to help inform current and future building and refurbishment work undertaken across the court and tribunal estate. As lessons are learned and HMCTS reform initiatives develop, the design guide will be updated.

A copy of the consultation response has been placed in the libraries of both Houses.