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On 23 June 2015, Michael Gove, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, announced the Government’s intention to work with the judiciary to reform the courts and tribunals in England and Wales. This came as part of ongoing reforms of the court system.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is the body responsible for the administration of criminal, civil and family courts in England and Wales and for giving people and businesses access to justice through the courts. In June 2015, HMCTS stated in its annual report that “the level of service currently received at a court or tribunal is at best inconsistent and, at worse, frustrating, despite the continuing great efforts of our staff and the judiciary”. A lack of digital services, outdated systems, waste and inefficiency, poor utilisation and inadequate facilities of court buildings has been noted by HMCTS.

Section 1 of the Courts Act 2003 states that the Lord Chancellor is under a duty to ensure that there is an “efficient and effective system to support the carrying on of the business of the Senior Courts, the Court of Protection, the county court, the family court, and magistrates’ courts, and that appropriate services are provided for those courts”.

In the November 2015 Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the Government was increasing total investment to more than £700 million “to modernise and fully digitise the courts”. In 2014/15 the Government had committed £380 million new investment over five years from 2015/16 to “fundamentally transform the courts and tribunals system, ensuring it is fit for purpose and delivers swifter and more certain justice”. However, he added that the Government would need to sell a number of underused courts and refurbish others. These reforms were expected to deliver savings of approximately £200 million a year from 2019/20 onwards and would deliver a “more efficient configuration of the estate”. Following consultation, on 11 February 2016, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS announced that 87 courts and four tribunal buildings would close. The details of the wider reform are a work in progress, but although many see the need for the reform and the opportunity it provides, concerns have also been raised, in particular with regard to accessing the justice system.

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