15 November 2021

Vote against the Common Platform

The Secret Legal Adviser urges HMCTS members to vote in our consultative ballot on the flawed Common Platform case management system which she says is making her seriously consider if she can continue doing the job she loves

Common Platform (CP) is the system touted by HMCTS as the miracle which will drag us into the 21st Century, revolutionising the court service, accessible to all and making us ultra efficient. If you think it sounds too good to be true, then you’re correct. For those of us who have experienced the bitter reality, it’s become the bane of our already difficult working lives. Cumbersome, unfit for purpose and unpopular with every user who encounters it.

The issues with CP are almost too numerous to relate. It is very, very slow. Even the simplest result, will take twice as long on CP as on the previous digital system. Each part of the result having to be saved separately, meanwhile you watch the wheel of death spin for what seems like eternity waiting for the page to update. And, most annoyingly every single time something is saved the page scrolls right back to the top, so you have to painstakingly scroll back down to the next bit you need to complete.  

Complicated results with multiple offences and/or defendants can take up to an hour per defendant. Less than practical if, for example, you’re in a court with anywhere between 12-20 prisoners and completely at odds with recovery targets. 

The time factor is made worse by the system’s sheer unreliability. Every new system has its glitches but this one is dogged by continuing problems. Technical error messages appear regularly and for no apparent reason. Imagine spending 45 minutes on a result only to get an error message as you save the final bit. The tension and frustration often reduce me to tears. Lunch breaks are taken up with ‘resulting’, ditto staying late to result after the court finishes. The pressure on legal advisers is enormous and stress levels are through the roof. 

The amount of concentration required means that you become almost oblivious to what else is going on in court. Sometimes it is hard to remember when you last gave legal advice, which is supposed to be our primary function. That’s what we did our professional training for. 

Staff at risk

The system is allegedly agile. It’s as agile as hardened concrete. A magistrate’s name missed off the list? Sorry you have to wait for a national update before it can be added so that magistrate can’t access any information stored on CP. Need a case ejecting because it’s not suitable?  Please stop your court and complete a form and email it to the team to request it. Then it will take at least an hour for the case to be removed and re-entered on the legacy system during which time case information is unavailable to everyone. Information that a court must legally record, sorry we didn’t realise that when we created the programme, so you’ll have to look in optional results to find that. 

Most days I am literally glued to my seat for hours on end, with barely a break from the intensity of it all. Little wonder that by the end of each day I invariably have a headache, blurred vision and a sore back. I drive home in a daze, a risk to myself and other road users. 

The roll-out has been put on hold till some of these issues have been resolved. Other colleagues hopefully won’t have to experience the pain that I and many of others already have. I envy them. For many of us that pain continues daily as we are forced to continue using it, despite the obvious risk to our health and sanity. It is inevitable that something has got to give and I fear that it will be and my fellow legal advisers, court associates and court clerks, if we don’t do something now to tell HMCTS that this is simply not acceptable. I will be voting yes in the PCS ballot. I’m already having to think seriously about whether I can continue doing the job I love. If you are being balloted, vote yes too.