My Twitter feed is full, on a daily basis, with anecdotal evidence from fellow lawyers of significant failings in the courts system; defendants not being produced, court equipment not working, unacceptable delays in listing, etc. The ‘creaking and dysfunctional’ system described by Michael Gove in 2015 appears to persist.
The Government this week announced that Tim Parker has been appointed chair of the board of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). Parker is said to ‘bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in business transformation and is currently chairman of the Post Office, Samsonite and the National Trust’. So, what is his background and reputation? The Law Gazette reports that Parker was dubbed 'the Prince of Darkness' by the GMB union after allegedly turning up in his Porsche to sack a group of factory workers and halving the 7,000 workforce at the AA’. They call him a ‘slash and burn’ business man.
Is this the approach needed to ‘sort out’ the ailing courts service? I suggest not.
It was widely reported earlier this year that HMPTS were spending a sum of over £30 million to PWC as part of a £1bn drive to modernise the court and expand the types of hearings that can be conducted via computer. That cost evidently continues. Reviewing the HMCTS published ‘spending over £25,000’ each month is informative. In February alone, £540,635.00 was paid to Kainos, a digital technology developer. The accounts also show us that approximately £1.3 million was spent on management consultants to assist with “change management strategy” to help skeptical or hostile judges to embrace the reforms.
As a process improvement lawyer, the fact that the money is being spent on ‘change management strategy’ after a pilot for one of the proposed changes (namely video hearings) is something of a red flag. The benefit of the process improvement approach that we use for clients, using tools and techniques from the Lean and Six Sigma approaches, means that ‘change management’ happens from Day 1. Stakeholders are involved right at the outset, helping to map out the process and its defects.
The key for any transformation project is defining the problems that need to be solved. If that sounds overly simple or ‘just common sense’, then why do we see so many examples of this crucial step being missed time and time again. In our experience if this key step is missed out, people scramble to inject money into what they consider to be their ‘problem areas’, which simply serves to perpetuate the inefficiencies. And so we would say the answer for the courts system is not just a case of more money.
Some will say that the spending of money on management consultants is less of a priority than more tangible and immediate steps such as fixing court buildings and paying for more CPS staff.
This is a view that, whilst shared by many, is arguably short-sighted. Of course buildings need to be fixed and of course the CPS needs assistance, however, it is not useful to throw money at specific areas within an inefficient and flawed system. Cuts in one area in order to fund another do not help; taking from Peter to give to Paul does not encourage long term continuous improvement. The money is, in our experience, better spent investing in rigorous and statistically supported analysis of the underlying and fundamental issues to be addressed using a sound and tested approach like Lean and Six Sigma.
Whether this is a view shared by Tim Parker remains to be seen.