Staff at 68 courts across England and Wales strike over new case management system 

Legal advisors and court associates at 68 courts across England and Wales are taking part in a nine-day strike over the introduction of the Common Platform digital case management system, which court staff say is unworkable and forces them to work longer hours. 

The Common Platform – the beleaguered circa £300m project referred to as “vapourware” by one leading technology publication in 2017 – allows the police, judiciary, solicitors, barristers and criminal justice agencies to access and edit case information online. Currently live in over 100 courts – 44% of all criminal courts in England and Wales – the platform is intended to allow all parties involved in a case to access information on a single system for the first time. Over 100,000 criminal cases have been managed on the system since His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) began introducing it in courts in late 2020. It replaces five tools used by the criminal justice system: Libra; XHIBIT; Bench; Court Store; and Digital Mark-Up. 

However, in August members of the Public and Commercial Service Union voted to take strike action after negotiations with HMCTS to postpone the further rollout of the Common Platform broke down. The PCS issued a statement at the time saying: “The PCS dispute was never solely about the pausing of a further roll-out. We are opposing the CP system as a whole and the detrimental impact it is having on our members’ well-being and their ability to deliver justice.” 

The strike runs from 22 October to 30 October, with staff at Manchester, Luton and Peterborough forming picket lines in front of the Court yesterday (24 October). Strike action was originally supposed to take place in September but was put on hold following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

An HMCTS blog published in March conceded that “the new system experienced several technical and performance issues,” adding: “In order to respond to those issues effectively, we extended the planned summer pause in courts going live with the platform from September last year while we resolved them. This pause enabled us to make a range of necessary improvements to the system’s stability and speed, and these have led to far greater system reliability and performance.” 

However, criticism of the digitisation project goes as far back as 2017, when a spokesperson for HMCTS told The Register that the rollout, which was supposed to be complete by March 2019, would not be complete until 2020 at a then revised cost of £270m. “Sources say the programme has been overly focused on building the platform in house, rather than buying off-the-shelf software. They describe what has been produced so far as ‘vapourware’”, The Register wrote. 

The BBC reported at the start of this September just gone that the system is causing key information about court cases in England and Wales to change or disappear and is putting justice at risk.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told Legal IT Insider: “Common Platform is fundamental to modernising the court system – replacing out-of-date systems and freeing up court staff for other vital work.

“142 employees voted to strike, but we will continue to work closely with all staff to support them through this transition and want to thank all the court staff, judges and others who have contributed to its design and implementation so far.” They added that the most urgent criminal cases have been heard and that no court buildings have been closed as a result of the strike.

Industrial action is taking place across the courts listed below. 

Aberystwyth Justice Centre  

Aldershot Justice Centre  

Barrow-In-Furness Magistrates’ Court  

Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court  

Bolton Magistrates’ Court 

Brighton Magistrates’ Court  

Bristol Magistrates’ Court and Tribunals Hearing Centre  

Caernarfon Justice Centre  

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court  

Cardiff Magistrates’ Court 

Carlisle Magistrates’ Court  

Crawley Magistrates’ Court  

Crewe (South Cheshire) Magistrates’ Court  

Derby Magistrates’ Court  

Durham County Court and Family Court  

Ealing Magistrates’ Court  

Gateshead Law Courts  

Grimsby Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Guildford Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Hastings Magistrates’ Court  

Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court  

Hereford Justice Centre  

High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court  

Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court  

Lincoln Magistrates’ Court  

Liverpool and Knowsley Magistrates’ Court  

Liverpool Civil and Family Court  

Llanelli Magistrates’ Court  

Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court  

Manchester Magistrates’ Court 

Mansfield Magistrates’ and County Court 

Mid and South East Northumberland Law Courts  

Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Mold Justice Centre  

Newcastle Upon Tyne Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court  

Newport (South Wales) Magistrates’ Court 

Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court  

North Somerset Magistrates’ Court  

North Staffordshire Justice Centre   

North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court  

Nottingham Magistrates Court 

Oxford Magistrates’ Court  

Peterborough Magistrates’ Court  

Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court  

Reading Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Sefton Magistrates’ Court  

South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court  

St Albans Magistrates’ Court  

Staines Magistrates’ Court and Family Court  

Stockport Magistrates’ Court 

Sunderland County, Family, Magistrates’ and Tribunals Hearings   

Swindon Magistrates’ Court 

Tameside Magistrates’ Court 

Teesside Magistrates’ Court  

Telford Magistrates’ Court  

Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court  

Warrington Magistrates’ Court  

West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court  

Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court 

Willesden Magistrates’ Court  

Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court  

Worcester Justice Centre  

Worthing Magistrates’ Court   

Yeovil County, Family and Magistrates’ Court