Three: The tribunals gamble

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As the role of technology steadily grows in justice systems around the world, the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HMCTS have taken the step of being global pioneers. They are now in the process of putting many court and tribunal processes – as well as court administration systems – on to a digital footing. Tribunals – which hear many more challenges to the decisions of public authorities than the courts do via judicial review – are a major focus of these changes. Reforms to tribunals are expected to involve tribunal appeals being lodged, and potentially determined, online, with the idea of parties coming into contact with each other and a judge at an earlier stage than before. The changes is a government drive to cut the running costs of the justice system. As such, new online procedures are being coupled with court closures and significant reductions in the amount of court staff. While there is hope that online processes may increase access to justice for many, there is also concern that some may be digitally excluded from justice. At the same time, there is a worry that new online processes will not compensate adequately for reduced service provision in respect of traditional processes. Overall, these reforms represent a major policy gamble by a government under pressure to reduce costs: the gamble that technology-based solutions can provide more access to justice for significantly less money.

Tribunal reform is starting in the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal (SSCS) and then moving on to the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum) Chamber (FtTIAC).

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