HMCTS Common Platform remains ‘key cog’ in reform strategy says CEO

HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) Common Platform remains a “key cog” in its £1.3bn reform programme despite not delivering on intended efficiencies, HMCTS’s chief executive officer Nick Goodwin said.

This was in response to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO), evaluating the reform programme, which found problems with the Common Platform digital case-management system to be “of most concern.”

HMCTS’s courts and tribunals reform programme was launched in 2016 to modernise the justice system and reduce court backlogs. A central part of the programme’s success depends on how effectively HMCTS implements Common Platform - a digital case management system for criminal courts that began being rolled out in September 2020.

According to the latest NAO report, while the system has undoubtedly improved since its initial rollout, “it has created inefficiencies in courts, caused stress for court staff and undermined trust in the quality of court records.” 

It added that those “inefficiencies” had included performance issues such as lagging and slow system responses that interfered with the live-running of courts, “impacting justice outcomes in a small number of instances.” For example, in September 2022, 35 people were not fitted with electronic monitoring tags when they should have been. 

Too much, too soon

The rollout of Common Platform has been delayed multiple times on account of technical issues, the NAO said.

After an initial delay, HMCTS recorded 231 critical incidents that affected users on a national basis between March and October 2022. In September 2022, there was another two-week pause after it was discovered that the system had failed to send 3,011 notifications to partner agencies between June 2021 and August 2022. 

The NAO said that HMCTS expected Common Platform to generate a quarter of the reform programme’s gross lifetime savings, but “several significant gaps in its functionality” remained.

NAO head Gareth Davies said HMCTS's decision to introduce the new platform before it was ready has created extra burdens for courts when they are already under pressure.

“This has been a complex and challenging programme for HMCTS to deliver, not least due to the impact of the pandemic,” he said. “While the programme has continued to make progress, the decision to roll out the Common Platform without sufficient assurance has put avoidable pressure on the courts at a critical time.”.

HMCTS's response

HMCTS chief executive officer Nick Goodwin said the organisation1669212332442 "recognises the areas of challenge" raised by NAO and would “carefully consider” the report’s recommendations.

“Completing a programme of this scale in a live operational environment is not without its challenges," he said. "There are reasons for this: some of them fall outside of our control, such as the pandemic; and some of them are things that we didn’t get right, such as introducing too much change too quickly. We can and will put this right.”

Despite this, Goodwin said Common Platform remains a “vital cog” in the success of the reform programme due to its role in replacing legacy systems that are fragmented.

“We’ve undoubtedly achieved a lot through our reforms, with our digital services used over 2.1 million times so far,” he said. However, he added that the organisations “have learned from experience how to do things better.”

Achievements made as a result of the court reform programme include: 

  • More than 400,000 Online Civil Money Claims have been processed since their introduction in March 2018, with a 96% user satisfaction rating for the service.
  • By December 2022 digital uptake has increased to 80% of all probate applications received online
  • Less than 1% of online divorce applications have been returned due to user error, compared to 40% with the original, paper-based system
  • Common Platform is live in 173 Crown and magistrates’ courts, meaning 76% of all criminal courts are managing cases on the system.
  • Over 500,000 hearings have now been managed on Common Platform across the criminal courts.

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