The International Forum on Online Courts, held in December, delivered some surprisingly consistent lessons from across the world on this point – including, in particular, the importance of using digital and other opportunities to really re-think how we work, rather than simply replicating our existing systems in digital form.
This doesn’t mean blindly sticking to whatever was first thought of, though. Good plans evolve, and are based on listening. But it does mean assessing critiques, challenges and suggestions against the central principle that justice should and can be made both more accessible and more efficient. It also means checking constantly for the ‘status quo bias’ that makes us accept failures and drawbacks in the current way of doing things that we would ruthlessly castigate in any new proposal.
So how do we work out when to stick, and when to twist?
Often the answer has been in using the insight of professionals and partners to develop pilots that are then carefully tested on members of the public. This feedback allows us to base our systems on what actually works for users before rolling it out more widely, as opposed to basing it merely on what we (or others) think users want.
Shannon Salter, whose Civil Resolution Tribunal in Canada has blazed a trail for different ways of working, has spoken powerfully about this. We also have a growing number of real users, offered a new way of doing things, adapting more quickly, enthusiastically and competently than we might have predicted.
For me, this raises the question about whether our traditional assumptions about user capabilities have been shaped by the historic complexity of the justice system that has had the effect of disempowering and de-skilling those who use it.
We’ve also seen other changes in early assumptions – for example, judicial support for more mediation (moving towards ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ for smaller claims) has meant that we expect to see fewer cases suitable for video-hearings than first thought (because the simpler ones are more likely to settle through mediation, rather than come to a hearing of any kind).
We need to keep on testing, learning and refining rapidly, as well as investing in more detailed, thorough and longer-term evaluation – and our plans for the latter are set out in our response to the Public Accounts Committeepublished a few weeks ago.
And we know that we need to continue to welcome – indeed, to invite – challenge, questioning and exploration – because what we are doing has high stakes, and matters – which is why I welcome the announcement of a parliamentary inquiry into Court Reform by the Justice Select Committee too.
Taken together, all of this means that I am unapologetic when aspects of what we are doing change from early proposals and prototypes. I am certain that there will – and should – be further changes in the future. Professional and many other views will continue to shape what we do.
And always, the most valued opinions must continue to be those of the public using the courts who enable us to check and correct our course without losing sight of our destination – a court and tribunals service that works better for all those who need and use it.
Originally published here