Monday, 20 July 2009

Improving the Public's experience of courts - HMCS publishes annual report

Innovative ways to improve the public’s experience of courts; improvements against performance targets; providing fair and simple routes to civil and family justice: these are some of the highlights of the HMCS Annual Report and Accounts 2008/09.

Introducing the report, Mrs Chris Mayer CBE, Chief Executive of HMCS, said:

“The courts are a vital public service at the heart of the justice system, enabling justice to be done and be seen to be done in cities and towns across England and Wales. Most people have their first contact with the justice system through our courts – resolving family disputes, enforcing their consumer and employment rights, claiming compensation, giving evidence as victims and witnesses of crime or as criminals being brought to justice.

“Over the past year HMCS staff have been working hard to improve the public’s experience of all aspects of the justice system. We have achieved much but recognise that there is still more to do to ensure that all our customers continue to be well served and supported.”

Sir Duncan Nichol CBE, non-executive Chair of the HMCS Board, said: “The report marks the first full year of the new partnership arrangements between the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.

“HMCS and the judiciary have worked together to support victims of crime, reduce the time it has taken to bring offenders before a court and protect children and vulnerable people. We have seen innovation and high levels of customer service in many courts.”

The report notes the high percentage of court users who have had a positive and supported experience at court. The court user satisfaction survey shows that 83% were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their experience. HMCS has also improved witness waiting times, achieved its best ever timeliness performance and successfully reduced the number of pre-trial mention hearings in the Crown Court.

Performance highlights include:

* improved timeliness in the Crown Court with 80% of all cases having their first main hearing within their respective target period

* continued improvement in timeliness in the magistrates’ court (up over 20% since March 2007)

* improved enforcement with 62% of breached community penalties resolved within 25 working days, exceeding the target by two percentage points and a 12% improvement on 2006/07 levels

* expanded our award-winning Small Claims Mediation Service to provide national coverage.

The report highlights new HMCS case management procedures for care and supervision cases. The Public Law Outline promotes better co-operation between all parties involved, reduces unnecessary delay and makes the process less distressing for children and their families.

Another achievement is the increase in the proportion of defended small civil claims that are completed without the need for a court hearing. There were 9,000 mediations with a settlement rate of 72% against a target of 65%.

The report outlines successes of Criminal Justice – Simple, Speedy, Summary (CJSSS) in the magistrates’ courts and its extension into all youth courts. It details the continued growth in community justice with the development of more community justice centres and problem-solving courts such as drug courts, mental health courts and specialist domestic violence court systems.

This report also shows the ongoing programme of improving court buildings and facilities. New courts, integration projects and upgrades seek to provide state-of-the-art facilities, secure waiting areas and video links for vulnerable witnesses.

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