‘What is a Court?’

In 2015, JUSTICE launched a Working Party of our membership looking at What is a Court?, challenging long-held notions of what is required of a court or tribunal, and intended to inform the HMCTS Reform Programme as it is designed and implemented. The JUSTICE Working Party recommended a fresh, principled and researchdriven approach to the configuration of the court and tribunal estate in England and Wales.

The report was published 17th May 2016, at a launch kindly hosted by
Nabarro LLP.

The challenge

 The court and tribunal estate is outdated and underperforming. It lacks the flexibility and technological capacity required by a modern justice system. Deep-seated conceptions of courthouses have impeded the modernisation of the estate. This attitude has led to court closures being viewed as preventing access to justice, rather than a timely chance to reform. The JUSTICE Working Party views this programme of reform as an opportunity to be seized. Although prompted by the demands of austerity, the HMCTS Reform Programme provides a catalyst to rationalise the estate, and maximise effective and accessible justice for all.

The Working Party 

The Working Party was chaired by Alexandra Marks and their work was kindly supported by Nabarro LLP.

  • Alexandra Marks (Chair)
  • Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC
  • His Honour Nicholas Coleman
  • Amanda Finlay CBE
  • Andrew Lockley
  • George Lubega
  • Professor Linda Mulcahy
  • Professor Martin Partington CBE QC
  • Her Honour Isobel Plumstead
  • HHJ Daniel Pierce-Higgins
  • Pat Thomas OBE
  • Karamjit Singh CBE
  • Caroline Sheppard
  • Nadia O’Mara – Rapporteur
  • Andrea Coomber

The report 

The report of the Working Party was launched in May 2016. It recommends:

  • The reconception of court and tribunal rooms as ‘justice spaces’. This new model is defined by its inherent flexibility and rejection of the over-standardisation prevalent in existing courts and tribunals. Justice spaces are designed to adapt to the particular dispute resolution process taking place within them, and the needs of users, rather than the other way around.
  • A flexible and responsive court and tribunal estate, made up of a number of dynamic parts. The Working Party suggests a portfolio of Flagship Justice Centres; Local Justice Centres; ‘Pop-up courts’; remote access justice facilities; and digital justice spaces.

The Working Party emphasises the importance of technology, and its potential to meet user needs and maximise access to justice. All of the Working Party’s proposals are anchored in a commitment to a core set of principled considerations. Finally, the report makes practical recommendations aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of the HMCTS Reform Programme.

The report is underpinned by two pressing themes which are relevant across the legal community:  increasing use of technology and adaptation to a challenging economic climate.

At the core of the Working Party’s recommendations is a new ‘justice spaces’ model for court and tribunal rooms. This model is inherently flexible so that – unlike traditional courtrooms – justice spaces can adapt to the particular dispute resolution process taking place. Hence the ‘justice space’ can fit the needs of users, rather than the other way around. Our Working Party suggests that justice spaces should be accommodated in an estate made up Flagship Justice Centres; Local Justice Centres; ‘Popup Courts’; remote access justice facilities; and digital justice spaces.

At the launch of the report, the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, said about the contribution made by the report “as a contribution, it couldn’t have been more helpful, thoughtprovoking or clear. It raises a number of issues and challenges which need to be tackled if we’re to make the most of the opportunity presented by Reform investment.

Read the full report here 

Read a summary and highlights from the report in our press release

If you have further inquiries about the report, please contact Alex Walters