UK civil courts award £10m contract to Version 1 Solutions for end-to-end online processing

Digitisation of the justice system still delivering value for money

The public body that runs the courts in England and Wales has awarded Version 1 Solutions a contract valued at £9.6m to build an end-to-end digital service for civil claims and damages.

The award, by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), is intended to "ensure that high-quality digital services are developed for the Civil jurisdiction that are simple, easy to use and meet the government service standard."

Under the contract, which is set to end in September 2023, Version 1 is to build the end-to-end service on top of current systems that deal with the initial issue and respond phases of the legal process.

The contract is also set to offer system-to-system API-based integration between the HMCTS platform, external solicitors and other organisations. And it is expected the supplier will refactor the existing front-end citizen service to align with common strategic components and new business states and event models.

HMCTS, which operates under the Ministry of Justice with a budget of around £1.7bn, has awarded earlier contracts to Kainos Software to build up its digital capability within the Civil, Family and Tribunals project, designed to "develop efficient, proportionate and accessible digital services delivering access to justice via appropriate modern channels."

In August 2017, the vendor was awarded a £4.8m contract to allow civil claims to be dealt with online without legal representation, and will introduce a new way of issuing and defending claims in the civil court coupled with a move from face-to-face hearings to telephone and virtual hearings where appropriate.

In 2019, Kainos won a £2.96m deal to complete the digitisation of the divorce process, as well as managing the financial remedies, a system which has reportedly gone live.

"HMCTS is undergoing an extensive reform transformation enabled by a technology work stream," the tender document noted at the time. "Civil, Family and Tribunals (CFT) is one of the programmes of work enabling the transformation. Current HMCTS services are typically supported by high-volume, paper-based processes. The CFT Programme's main technology objective is to develop efficient, proportionate and accessible digital services delivering access to justice via appropriate modern channels. These digital services are being developed within a coherent architecture which maximises reuse across the services."

HMCT is in the midst of a £1bn technology programme involving over 50 projects to improve court and tribunal services, bringing new technology and modern ways of working, according to documents published in 2018.

Attempts to modernise the UK court system have struggled, however.

In June, The Register revealed that more judges prefer using Microsoft Teams for remote court hearings than a made-to-order video platform bought as part of a £1.2bn Ministry of Justice digitisation initiative.

In 2019, a report from Parliament's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, found that the reforms had been repeatedly pushed back without showing any cost savings.

An earlier National Audit Office (NAO) report criticised the troubled £280m Common Platform Programme, the digital case-handling system intended to join up the case management process across HMCTS, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, which had made less progress than anticipated.

Those with long enough memories will recall the Magistrates Courts Libra system, which saw its costs go from £146m in 1998 to £319m in 2000, according to the NAO. ®

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