New proposals have outlined plans for radical transformations for the way courts in Northern Ireland deal with children and family disputes. The plans centre on ambitions to make greater use of technology in a bid to make the system more efficient and improve access and outcomes for court users.
Central to the plans is the goal to move to paperless courts. No one would deny that paper-based systems are unwieldy, they are difficult to reference and access for all parties, never mind the environmental impact. Digitisation and automation of systems is widespread in many industries, and indeed in criminal courts in England and Wales evidence files have been fully digitised since April 2016, although the civil courts have yet to follow suit.
Whilst the proposed changes may be implemented slowly if adopted, and will need to be carefully planned and developed, this is surely a welcome development in a time when public services are increasingly conducted online. Any reform which increases efficiency and improves access for court users should be welcomed.
The blueprint for reform was set out by Mr Justice Gillen in a speech to mark the opening of the new legal year at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. "We cannot remain chained to the present," he told an audience that included judges, barristers, solicitors and others within the criminal justice system. "The case for reform is both compelling and urgent, and we must acknowledge and apply the fresh thinking that has emerged elsewhere lest we get left behind."