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Bedtime reading list on digital court reform and court closures

Penelope Gibbs
18 Jan 2019

Many of you are preparing to respond to the Justice Committee’s inquiry on courts and tribunals which has a deadline of March 11th. Transform Justice will be submitting evidence but in the meantime I thought a reading list might be helpful.

This list is mainly oriented towards criminal courts, simply because we’ve focused more on these. But it does cover some topics in other jurisdictions. It is not comprehensive and I’d welcome additions to it. Email [email protected] a link to any document you think should be added.

Government documents

Many of the ideas behind the digital court reform programme were originally floated in reviews commissioned from Senior Judges

Judicial Publications

Most of these were published in preparation for, or in response to, the Judicial Ways of Working (JWOW) consultation by the judiciary of judges. Here are the consultation documents Crime ; Civil  ; FamilyTribunals  The Heads of Jurisdictions summarised the position post consultation in four documents relating to CrimeCivilFamily and Tribunals.

Very few of the actual responses have got into the public domain. Here is a report of the Kent Magistrates’ Association response and Emily Dugan was given the response of the Association of (County Court) District Judges. And this is the response of the national Magistrates’ Association

Government research

The Ministry of Justice commissioned a pilot of virtual courts and published an evaluation in 2010 – the only one to measure outcomes.

HMCTS commissioned a process evaluation of the pilot of a video tax tribunal in 2018 This is excellent research but did not look at outcomes and is small scale eg only two plaintiffs who had done their hearing on video were interviewed.

The government also did an evaluation of flexible courts (sitting outside the normal hours)  which incorporated video links.

HMCTS has been doing user research on all aspects of the digital court reform programme. No findings have been published save this report on virtual remand hearings which was FOIed by Transform Justice.


The finances of the digital court reform programme are pretty mysterious, in terms of the actual budget. The best overview of the finances is the NAO report and the Public Accounts Committee report of their inquiry. Great summary from the Transparency Project of the evidence submitted to the committee here.

Since then one of the programmes (to digitise compliance with court fines) has been abandoned and the Common Platform programme (which was already suffering problems) has lost a key element – the engagement with CPS systems

Actual expenditure on the programme is difficult to track though HMCTS do publish a spreadsheet of costs over £25k and Transform Justice did a tiny bit of analysis

Transform Justice work

Transform Justice has blogged extensively on different aspects of the digital court reform programme and on court closures

We published a report on video hearings and vulnerable people and touched on the use of video in a report on the over-use of remand 

Transform Justice published a briefing on the prison and courts bill  and a briefing on court closures.

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice used Transform Justice data to publish a report on the impact of digital court reform on child defendants.

Other and International Research

The best overview of the history of HMCTS digital court reform programme is by Joshua Rozenberg on the Legal Education Foundation website. And he gave a recent lecture.

Too little academic work has been done on online and video courts and hearings. And apologies if much of this work is behind an academic paywall. If you email the academic direct, they may be able to help you

Video hearings: the most important work has been done on video links in Australia

Dr Carolyn McKay’s publications and works are here. Some of the media articles cited are open source.

Professor Anne Wallace – see peer reviewed journal articles 

A group of academics and local stakeholders in New South Wales piloted a new way of designing the court-room including the use of state of the art video. The outcomes in a simulated trial were the same if the defendant was on video as if they were in the well of the court, but only if the courtroom set up was re-designed, if the lawyer was sitting with the client in the prison and this state of the art video technology was used.

Professor Louise Ellison simulated a criminal trial in England with and without video linked evidence and her research (though small-scale) suggested there was no significant difference in outcomes: Ellison LE, Munro VE. 2014. A ‘Special’ Delivery? Exploring the Impact of Screens, Live-Links and Video-Recorded Evidence on Mock Juror Deliberation in Rape Trials. Social Legal Studies. 23(1), pp. 3-29

Dr Nicky Padfield and Tom Hawker wrote an editorial on sentencing by video: Padfield, N. and Hawker, T. (2017) ‘Editorial: Sentencing via Video Link’, Criminal Law Review 8: 585-6.

Dr Samantha Fairclough argues for the greater use of video for vulnerable defendants giving evidence

Despite the fact that most bail immigration hearings are held on video, there is a dearth of academic research. The bail observation project has done research which indicates that video hearings lead to more negative outcomes for the plaintiffs.

US academic Professor Ingrid Eagly completed a study on the outcomes of immigation cases held on video and found that more plaintiffs who appeared on video were deported

The Centre for Justice Innovation published a report on digital justice in the criminal courts

The charity Justice published a report on mental health and fair trial which dealt with the difficulties of defendants with mental health issues using video links

Justice also published a report on the challenges of including the digitally excluded in the court reform programme

This theme – online exclusion – was also analysed by Dr Catrina Denvir for the Civil Justice Council

There is also great material on digital justice across jurisdiction on the blog site run by Dr Roger Smith

The Public Law Project have also done great work on tribunals:  what we don’t know and need to know 

Jenni Ward has a section on video links in her book on Transforming Summary Justice and in an academic essa

Sebastian Walker, ‘The Prison and Courts Bill: online courts and the right to a fair trial’ [2017] 4 Arch. Rev. 7

Professor Jane Donoghue published an article on the access to justice implication of digital justice in criminal courts

An article from Australian academics on the impact of video links on judging

On what we lose when we lose the courthouse and on sentencing by videolink

Court closures

There is very little work on this indeed

The parliamentary library published a review in 2018 and a report on the court closure programme in 2016

Academic James Hand wrote a very good blog on court closures

A group of local government stakeholders published a report on the impact of court closures in Suffolk 

The Transparency Project response to the Fit for the Future consultation is here 

PS If you would like a word version of this list, just drop me an email