Justice Calling: HMCTS centralised hubs respond to calls within 30 seconds

September 4, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The launch of centralised hubs to dispense justice to defendants charged with “victimless offences” is proving successful. According to the government, hubs in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent are dealing with a large volume of cases more quickly under the Single Justice Procedure, instituted in 2015.

What does this mean?

The Single Justice Procedure, which was introduced in 2015 by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, means that minor offences (those that cannot result in a prison sentence, such as dodging train fares, TV licence evasion and driving without insurance) no longer need a formal hearing and can be dealt with by a single magistrate. Defendants no longer have to attend court and will simply be notified of the outcome of their case, unless they request a hearing in open court. 

As a result of the increased need for communications outside of the courts, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) opened two new centralised hubs in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent at the beginning of 2019. The centralised hubs deal with all enquiries about non-police prosecutions under the Single Justice Procedure. Previously, a chronic problem for these hubs was their inefficiency, with callers waiting up to five minutes to have their calls answered. This meant that 38% of callers would hang up before their call was answered.

Recently, the Ministry of Justice announced that the establishment of centralised hubs had drastically improved their responsiveness. The latest figures show 30,000 people were dealt with in 30 seconds and only 2% of callers hung up before their calls could be answered. HMCTS’s national director, Jonathan Wood noted: “We are answering calls more quickly while providing better quality support specific to callers and their cases”.

What's the big picture effect?

Ensuring effective access to justice is one of the vital tasks for HMCTS in its role as the body responsible for the administration of criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales. In 2016, a £1 billion package of reforms, named “Transforming our Justice System” was announced by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals. The reforms aimed to improve accessibility and transparency in the courts whilst bringing the courts up to date with the digital age.

In January this year the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into the access to justice, following a 2018 report that investigated how deliverable and costly these reforms would be. Some of the key changes brought about by these reports involve increasing video and digital technology used in the courts and the unification of the criminal courts under a single leadership structure. The Automatic Track Case Management (ATCM) system is one specific example of how the courts are digitalising. ATCM gives defendants the ability to reply and plead to a jury summons online, as well as providing a direct phone line to the centralised hubs. ATCM also creates a digital record which eradicates any need to retype information on any said case, allowing the Single Justice Procedure to function effectively. 

Ultimately, access to justice is only achieved if defendants are adequately informed about the procedure of their case under the Single Justice Procedure. It is therefore vital that this positive trend in the efficiency of the centralised hubs continues in order for legislation to be effective in ensuring true access to justice.

Report written by Will Holmes

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