Justice under threat from court and tribunal estate reform

14 May 2019

PCS fears the quality of justice and service delivered by courts and tribunals staff and access to justice are threatened by the latest plan by HM Courts and Tribunals Service to ‘reform’ the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales.

A document published on Friday (10) sets out HMCTS’ response to a consultation launched in January on its proposals to ‘transform’ the court and tribunal estate. The principles it contains, including the adoption of design guides for new court and tribunal rooms and a redefined ‘reasonable journey’ time for court users, pose grave threats to justice and staff.

We do not accept that these principles are based on ensuring access to justice, providing value for money for the taxpayer and ensuring efficiency in the long term. We believe efficiency is a euphemism for cuts to a public service which we maintain is already creaking under unrelenting pressure and chronic underfunding and is largely reliant on the goodwill and professionalism of our members. We reassert our commitment to protecting members’ interests first and foremost in the light of this announcement and the proposals for further closures which will believe will inevitably swiftly follow. 

Gruelling journeys

Court users and staff face gruelling journeys which we believe are unreasonable for the overwhelming majority of people who attend court. The document defines a “reasonable journey” as one that allows a court or tribunal user to leave home no earlier than 7.30am, attend their hearing, and return home by 7.30pm the same day, including by public transport where necessary. Proposals based on these principles will have a disproportionate impact on those with conditions protected under the Equality Act and with caring responsibilities, the vast majority of whom are women.

Principles being used in the design guide for new court rooms not only place our members at risk of being unable to protect themselves in the event of a violent incident but also fail to address the concerns we have repeatedly raised about the incompatibility of traditional court room design with digital working and the risks it presents to our members.

Slowing down justice

PCS also does not accept that new technology and so-called modern ways of working are making justice more accessible. Indeed, we have given evidence to the parliamentary justice select committee that in magistrates’ courts and the probate service, both are slowing down and threatening the quality of justice and service that is delivered.

We believe that the timing of this announcement is extremely cynical and that HMCTS should not have made any decision, let alone announce it, before the select committee has published its report on HMCTS and its recommendations addressed. We also have grave doubts HMTCS will honour its commitment not to propose court closures unless they have sound evidence that the reforms are actually reducing the use of those buildings.

This is also the case for its commitment to fully consult on future plans as previous consultations have been based on fundamentally flawed utilisation figures and HMCTS has closed courts against overwhelming public opposition.

PCS has been committed to ensuring our members’ interests have been at the forefront of our input into the consultation process. We remain committed to opposing all redundancies and compulsory relocations and any measures that place our members or the public's safety at risk. 

Read the consultation response on the HMCTS website and feed your comments back to us by emailing midsbargaining@pcs.org.uk marked ‘Estate Strategy Consultation response.’  

You can ‘shine a light for justice’ at a Justice Alliance campaign event at 9.15pm on Thursday (16) at Old Bloomsbury County Court London W1B 1PD.  

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