New courts service chief pledges to bring justice into digital age

New courts service chief pledges to bring justice into digital age


Susan Acland-Hood helped cut an ‘overspending, unsustainable victim compensation fund' without public outcry

Treasury director Susan Acland-Hood has been appointed chief executive of the courts service, succeeding respected civil servant Natalie Ceeney, who left unexpectedly in May after just over a year in the job.

'We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a transformed justice system that is faster, better and more accessible to all,' Acland-Hood said, and that she looked forward to 'add[ing] technology to our powerful and respected traditions, and give us the best justice system in the world.'

Acland-Hood's appointment comes less than a month are the publication of the 'Transforming Our Justice System' paper - published jointly the Ministry of Justice, Lord Chief Justice, and senior president of tribunals '“ and the government announcement of a £1bn modernisation programme for the courts service.

The paper outlined a vision for a just, proportionate, and accessible justice system, along with plans for systematic use of technology in court and the continued programme of court closures.

It followed Lord Justice Briggs' Civil Courts Structure Review on 27 July, which called for the setting up of online courts for claims of up to £25,000, the appointment of case officers to take care of matters currently dealt with by judges, and for all enforcement procedures to be digitised.

A few days earlier, HMCTS's digital director, Kevin Gallagher, explained in his modernising the justice system speech (20 July 2016) how the courts service was already working to bring the justice system in line with users' expectations and achieve efficiencies. This involved, for instance, allowing police officers to provide evidence by video link, 'taking ten minutes rather than half of their working day'.

Gallagher said his department's effort was on developing a system to take low-value procedures out of court. 'For a dispute between neighbours about the height of a leylandii tree, iPhone evidence and a video hearing may prove more effective than the parties appearing in a court miles from the site in question,' he said.

Already, more low-stake procedures have started online, and the eJudiciary initiative, a cloud-based project, allows the judiciary to work remotely '“ the judges involved in setting up the initiative even had special mugs made with the words 'Keep calm we've got eJudiciary now'.

Acland-Hood's achievements, according to her LinkedIn profile, included 'cutting an overspending, unsustainable victim compensation fund, which we made sustainable without any public outcry' when she was a Downing Street senior policy adviser between 2011 and 2013. She was in the job for two years and one month, the longest she was in a post.

In her current role as director for Enterprise and Growth at the Treasury, she directed the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and chaired the commissions that recommended Crossrail 2 and High Speed 3.

The role of chief executive of HMCTS has a salary range of £125,000 to £129,999 a year. Acland-Hood will take up her new post on 21 November.

Jean-Yves Gilg is editor in chief of Solicitors Journal | @jeanyvesgilg