‘Technophobe’ judges delay £1.2bn justice system reforms

A £1.2billion programme to modernise the courts has been held up by technophobe judges.

They have proved unwilling to adopt new software designed to speed up thousands of legal cases deciding the future of children.

According to a report by the most senior family judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, they prefer ‘a more laborious method’ of producing judgments. 

The attempt to persuade family court justices to adapt to the latest technology has now been dropped, in a major setback to the £1.2billion reform scheme.

Judges are unwilling to adopt a new software designed to speed up thousands of legal cases deciding the future of children. A report by the most senior family judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, they prefer ‘a more laborious method’ of producing judgments (stock image)

Judges are unwilling to adopt a new software designed to speed up thousands of legal cases deciding the future of children. A report by the most senior family judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, they prefer ‘a more laborious method’ of producing judgments (stock image)

Judges are unwilling to adopt a new software designed to speed up thousands of legal cases deciding the future of children. A report by the most senior family judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, they prefer ‘a more laborious method’ of producing judgments (stock image)

The ‘new ways of working’ programme is supposed to transform the justice system with online hearings, electronic records, a vast database of cases and the introduction of pop-up courts in town halls, hotels and pubs.

Sir Andrew, who is president of the Family Division of the High Court, announced the decision to abandon the new software in guidance to judges.

He did not detail which traditional methods will be retained. But it is thought that judges will now stick to email and shun unfamiliar new ‘templates’ for drawing up court orders. 

Some may even cling to producing handwritten rulings. As many as 70,000 children’s cases a year are affected by the decision. 

The new software was designed to make it easy for judges to include all details of a case and its history whenever they made a new court order.

Sir Andrew said the idea was that ‘anyone taking up a case would only need to turn to the last order to understand the issues, the parties, the state of the proceedings and other key information’.

Sir Andrew (pictured) said: 'It has become clear to me that many judges ... are, instead, preparing lengthy narrative orders in each case by a more laborious method with the result that the preparation of orders is now taking more time rather than less'

Sir Andrew (pictured) said: 'It has become clear to me that many judges ... are, instead, preparing lengthy narrative orders in each case by a more laborious method with the result that the preparation of orders is now taking more time rather than less'

Sir Andrew (pictured) said: ‘It has become clear to me that many judges … are, instead, preparing lengthy narrative orders in each case by a more laborious method with the result that the preparation of orders is now taking more time rather than less’

He added: ‘For whatever reason, it has become clear to me that many judges … are not using electronic templates or programs and are, instead, preparing lengthy narrative orders in each case by a more laborious method with the result that the preparation of orders is now taking more time rather than less.’

Because of the failure to use the new software, cases are taking too long, he said.

The court reforms have hit a number of stumbling blocks. 

In December senior judges scaled back plans for online hearings after some judges complained that they ‘were being proposed in the name of cost reduction but at the risk of justice’.

Last spring the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, said the reforms were already over budget and lawyers and police officers harboured deep doubts about them.

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