A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION FOR LITIGATORS: READ BUZZFEED MORE OFTEN: FIND OUT WHAT JUDGES REALLY THINK AND THE MOJ’S HIGHLY “SELECTIVE” USE OF STATISTICS

I have written before about the impressive work done by the journalist Emily Duggan on Buzzfeed News. Emily is one of the people who keeps a close, and sceptical, eye on what we are being told about reforms to the  court system.  Whilst legal aid is cut, courts and closed and matters made difficult for every litigant, the most vulnerable in society bear the brunt of this.

“The reality is that there has been a steady reduction in the [Courts and Tribunals Service] budget since the launch of [the Reform Programme] and this has resulted in haemorrhaging of experienced staff, a serious decline in staff and judicial morale, delays in all aspects of process and court systems that are even more broken.”

EMILY’S PIECE ON JUDGE’S AND THE REVIEW SYSTEM

The curious element of most proposed reforms is that it is “headlined” by a senior judge. Little is heard of the views of the judges on the ground, actually doing the work.  In this regard I urge you to read the piece on the 20th December which sets out the views of District Judges in response to the consultation paper. The Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges put in a response to the MOJ consultation paper

“It says:

  • Court systems are already “even more broken” thanks to drastic budget cuts.

  • Further court closures should be halted until more is known about their impact.

  • That the government did not appear to have done an impact assessment on vulnerable people and that “indirect discrimination results from these proposals and cannot be airbrushed away”.

  • Relying on technology to replace courts is risky: A recent virtual hearing to promote the idea “had to be abandoned due to excessive buffering and crashing”.

  • That the government’s consultation “reads as if cutting costs is being prioritised over access to justice”.

  • The government’s analysis behind increasing travel time for court users is likely to be “cursory and inadequate”.”

NEVER AN ADMISSION THAT ANYTHING WENT WRONG

One thing the MOJ finds hard to do is to admit that mistakes were made.  The District Judges point to the blatant attempt to massage statistics when an attempt was made a block listing.  Many cases were adjourned through lack of time. Adjournments were considered “successful” outcomes.

 

“This was well illustrated by the recent ill-fated London project of block listing trials. Lots of cases were adjourned on the day through lack of time on the block listings. Orders adjourning were considered ‘successful outcomes’ in a blatant attempt to massage the statistics. Drawing in Deputy District Judges to run block lists took resources out of other courts which had to bump lists. This experiment has not been repeated but there has been no admission that it failed!”

TRAVEL TO COURT TIME

The District Judges were equally critical of the “cursory and inadequate” travel time impacts carried out to support court closures.

Commenting on the government’s analysis of the travel time impacts of its court closures, the ADJ said “it is likely the analysis is cursory and inadequate” and that “simple data from Google Maps does not allow for routes to be tested in traffic or rush hour.”

The association said: “It is imperative that local judges and local practitioners should be consulted who will have first-hand experience of actual travel time rather than envisaged travel time. A cost analysis is also necessary as some train journeys may be very expensive for litigants to attend especially if this requires peak travel. If they are to be encouraged to book off peak train times are we then in a position to offer actual time slots that can be adhered to? This is unlikely so we would suggest that each travel analysis is accompanied with corresponding cost information for the different methods of travel being suggested to see if the journeys are actually realistic and feasible.”

 

ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE VERY SURREAL WORLD IN WHICH THE DECISION MAKERS LIVE: MY FAVOURITE TWITTER EXCHANGE OF LAST YEAR

The MOJ attempted a fight back, bringing in its heavyweight “comms director”, using a sample of “two” to argue that there had been a “high level of satisfaction”

Your piece refers to pilot on fully video hearings but fails to add that the independent evaluation in Sept found a “high level of satisfaction” among users. There were tech problems but it recommended the pilot be “expanded”.

Very interesting you’re referencing this report. The sample size is just 8 hearings. Last time I was speaking to MoJ about qualitative research they thought it wasn’t fit for publication

Also interesting because 14 cases were removed from the study because they didn’t pass the “technical triage”. 3 were cancelled because of technical failings.

 21 Dec 2018

Please read the read independent report. The evaluation team conducted 31 interviews, including 13 with appellants & their representatives

Are you seriously trying to say that with a straight face? Only two appellants were interviewed after a video hearing.

AND THERE IS MUCH MORE

This is not a one off.  Emily Dugan at BuzzFeed has covered these issues many times.