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Courts IT upgrade complete by 2020, says HMCTS chief

The following article has been extracted from the Law Society Gazette:

The upgrading of IT in England and Wales courts will be complete within four years, the chief executive of HMCTS has confirmed.

Speaking during an appearance before the House of Commons public accounts committee, Natalie Ceeney said changes were being introduced gradually but are progressing.

HMCTS has been granted £700m from the Treasury to overhaul courts and tribunals and modernise the service.

Ceeney said  Wi-Fi is now installed in all criminal courts with white screens and ‘Click Share’ technology available at all sites.

Magistrates will be equipped with iPads in the next six months, and the courts agency is currently working on systems to transfer electronic data from the Crown Prosecution Service to magistrates’ courts. Pleas online will also be extended across the country after a test scheme.

‘The good news is we’re doing some of it now,’ said Ceeney. ‘The approach we’re taking is not to do a big IT system, we’re doing lots of small things that together over the next four years will improve things. We’re not going to wait four years for it to happen, we’re going to do it incrementally.’

Ceeney, a former management consultant who joined HMCTS in January 2015, was questioned by MPs whether she had the backing of judges in trying to upgrade the court service.

‘The judiciary are on board with all the reform programmes we’re doing, that’s the big step forward,’ she said. ‘We work absolutely in partnership with the judiciary. I speak to the judiciary every day – they are championing these initiatives.’

She confirmed that the HMCTS staffing budget will be cut by 40% over the course of this parliament.

Ceeney and Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Richard Heaton also gave some extra information on the potential devolution of criminal justice to Greater Manchester, as announced in George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday.

They confirmed that decision-making powers in court would not be transferred, but local authorities would have more say in which buildings are used and when courts are open.

Heaton confirmed that Manchester had approached the MoJ to ask for some criminal justice powers and he was open to offers from other regions that want to do the same.