Justice in Northern Ireland is embracing technological change. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service outlined how that could be achieved in its five-year Digital Strategy 2021-26, highlighting modern technology as “one of the key enablers” to deliver its Vision 2030 programme.
Likewise, its ‘Modernising the Courts and Tribunals in Northern Ireland’ document focuses on the NICTS’s vision to deliver “independent, fair and effective modern courts and tribunals which serve the people of Northern Ireland with an innovative, collaborative and responsive administration of justice system”.
Both documents are detailed and wide-ranging in their aims, filled with excellent plans and a clear strategic target of where NICTS wants to be towards the latter stages of this decade.
But delivering this modernisation, as other jurisdictions are also currently finding, is another matter. The complex multi-agency nature of criminal justice that involves prosecutors, defence, police, the courts, prosecution services, government departments and prisons means finding the right solutions – and the right partner to deliver these solutions – is vital.
The justice system in Northern Ireland has risen to the challenge of delivering complex and large-scale projects. It launched the first Integrated Court Operations System in the UK and further integrated the criminal justice through the integration with data-sharing hub Causeway.
These systems were ground-breaking at the time, but public finance constraints over the past decade, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, have resulted in ever rising wait times for justice.
In today’s world, justice systems need to be able to adapt easily and quickly in order to not only deliver the justice demands of today, but also provide capacity for changes yet to materialise that might impact the delivery of justice in the future.
A route to a better future was unveiled in the Digital Justice Strategy 2020-25 which aimed to realise a vision of delivering digital justice services that were simpler, faster and better. One of the three principles it promoted was better citizen engagement.
At the heart of good citizen engagement is technology. In common with many organisations, an ongoing issue is that paper-based processes and legacy systems are still being used, whereas better collaboration and a holistic approach is needed to join up the different parts of the NICTS and its primary stakeholders – the citizen, judiciary and legal professionals.
These stakeholders’ expectations are high and to bring Northern Ireland justice delivery into a new digital era, and keep it there, will require a technology partner with a breadth and depth of expertise. They require one that has a track record in helping the Justice Sector to employ new technological solutions and modern ways of working to keep pace with today’s world.
Experience of CGI
For more than 20 years, CGI, the global IT and business consulting services company which last year established a footprint in Northern Ireland, has achieved just that in the England and Wales justice system.
Two recent examples reveal CGI’s experience.
The first saw the company work with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to deliver a new digital service to improve the juror summons process in England and Wales.
HMCTS wanted to replace its paper intensive process, which saw summons letters sent to all potential jurors and follow-up communications made by phone, email and post, with a jury summons online – in line with what many citizens expect of a modern public service.
CGI led a multi-disciplinary team embedded within HMCTS adopting an agile delivery methodology that would develop ideas quickly – then created an online system that met modern expectations.
The team first got to grips with the challenges a citizen faces when they receive their summons. In some instances people who had received summons, and feared they may be prosecuted if they did not reply in time by post, had been known to drive hundreds of miles to submit their response in person. A digital system was needed to tackle and eradicate such extreme examples.
The team also researched the requirements for HMCTS staff in charge of processing summons, principally around the number of errors made in summons replies and the labour-intensive process of correcting them.
A prototype service was built and tested with users, working towards a working version of a new service. A live trial was then deployed for selected courts in England, during which tens of thousands of citizens replied successfully to their jury summons online.
The benefits were immediate. Users found the digital service more simple and convenient, the number of citizens returning the form within seven days rose from just 1% to 19%, and far fewer errors were made on the form when replying digitally. It resulted in much lower printing and postage costs, with more citizens downloading the available online materials to prepare for jury service, and it directly benefited HMCTS juror officers, by allowing them to complete their work faster, as they spent less time correcting errors on summons replies.
Now, the service is live throughout England and Wales.
Elsewhere, CGI has challenged ways of working to drive improvement, including the consolidation of more than 30 case management systems with over 10,000 users – including judges, solicitors, local authorities, case workers and magistrates – previously comprising of dated legacy systems, to one simple user-centric case management system.
This business transformation programme has and continues to deliver a faster, more efficient and much less expensive access to justice. CGI’s joined-up approach simplified access, and streamlined end-to-end processes. Also by digitising the system and creating self-service portals, court staff and judges are able to focus more on high profile cases and less on administration.
Joining Up Justice
In common with the NICTS, the justice sector in England and Wales faces increasing pressure for improved integration between the agencies involved in the delivery of justice. To address this pressure, CGI recently commissioned a report entitled ‘Joining Up Justice with Real World Solutions’, which looks into the Criminal Justice System as it stands today. The report discovered a CJS in which justice is struggling to be delivered, not only for victims and witnesses but also for offenders in terms of proper rehabilitation.
Our report unveils a series of recommendations aimed at reducing the workload for practitioners so that more cases can be progressed to a satisfactory conclusion in less time; allow them to make better-informed and more confident decisions – such as optimising court listing systems, ensuring police and CPS case files are complete and up to date, and a full audit of data-sharing between organisations, leading to a newly commissioned platform and duty to share arrangements – and providing the technological solutions to improve outcomes in terms of harm reduction, crime prevention and public confidence, particularly among victims of crime.
The full report can be found here.
CGI has the experience, skills and technology to bring ground-breaking solutions to redesign and optimise service delivery models and processes, provide digital service delivery channels that improve access to justice, and support new ways of working in a sustainable financial operating environment.
But vitally, we can do this in a measured and considered way, avoiding any potential disruption to the ongoing delivery of justice while we deploy new systems.
We want the customer to see us as innovative, but also able to trust us to manage risk while we modernise their systems.
With such a proven track record, CGI can help NICTS deliver a modern justice system, one that is independent, fair and effective, and serves the people of Northern Ireland.