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
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