Common Platform goes live in 'major milestone' for the digital system

Common Platform, a digital system for managing criminal cases, has been rolled out to include all criminal cases in England and Wales. 

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), which runs the system, said that every Crown and magistrates’ court now has access to the platform, allowing progress on all criminal cases to be tracked in one place. 

"Completing the national rollout marks a major milestone in our plans to modernise the criminal justice system and, and while there’s a lot more to be done to improve and enhance the system, the principal building block is now in place," HMCTS CEO Nick Goodwin said. 

Common Platform allows information on arrests, trials, prison stays and probation to be viewed on one system by the judiciary and defence professionals, as well as partner organisations. The aim is to increase efficiency in justice services by using one platform to track all cases and allowing professionals to make updates which take immediate effect. 

The rollout of Common Platform is part of the HMCTS Reform Programme, launched back 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. 

Since the system's launch in 2020, however, it has been beset by setbacks and criticisms. 

Making the system fit for the future

Justice Minister Mike Freer highlighted how the platform is reducing burdensome admin and increasing efficiency: "Common Platform is improving how we work to deliver justice. It will allow instant and seamless information sharing that will reduce errors and ensure vital details about cases can be seen quickly by all those involved in a case.

“Connecting every criminal court with partner agencies and professionals is helping make them fit for the future.”

The programme is already transforming how the public interact with the justice system. Digital services in the courts and tribunals across all jurisdictions have been used over 2.1 million times so far, "making services easier to use and more efficient to run", HMCTS said. 

The challenge in delivering reforms at pace

Despite this positive outlook, the system has faced a number of notable setbacks including pauses in deployment and deadline pushbacks. It has also motivated multiple rounds of strike action by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). 

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in February found that the roll-out of the programme up to that point had “created inefficiencies in courts, caused stress for court staff and undermined trust in the quality of court records.”

The report found that system “inefficiencies” had led to 231 critical incidents that affected users on a national basis between March and October 2022. These inefficiencies led to one incident where 35 people were accidentally not fitted with electronic monitoring tags. 

The NAO concluded that “HMCTS’s priority has been on delivering its reforms at pace rather than embedding sustainable change.” 

Reflecting on this in his most recent announcement detailing the Common Platform updates, Goodwin said: "I know that the journey from the very first courts in Derby adopting the system in September 2020 to this point has been challenging. While it’s been a hard road at times, we have learned lessons along the way and shouldn’t underestimate how far we’ve come."

Most of the Common Platform is expected to be rolled out by March 2024, with a complete delivery of the project scheduled for March 2025.

New features will continue to be added to further improve information sharing and data accuracy across the justice system.

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