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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  Decision making and appeals  →  Thread

Tribunal ‘modernisation’ - modern technology (failure)

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seand
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My one experience of this was much better - used an ipad, in a client’s home so could access his wifi. We could both see and hear the 3 tribunal members clearly and they could see/hear us as well. Only odd thing was that the camera was pointed down at them. No issues with lag on the sound or the picture quality. only issue was their decision…

davidsmithp1000
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https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6141881147521734157

Attended webinar. Continuous online resolution, or COR as they’re calling it, is to be trialed shortly for SSCS. They explained that this is essentially for I.T. capable claimants, and does not at this stage provide a way for reps to be involved in the process.

Mike Hughes
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I was also one of the 150 and even managed to ask a question. To be fair I learnt more in 1 hour than HMCTS have given any of us in 3 years. I have comprehensive notes and will be trying to summarise them before the end of the day. A couple of initial observations:

1 - advance explanation of how the webinar worked was non-existent and amounted to how to join. Me and my Microsoft Professional Certification took at least 5 minutes to figure out much of what was going on. As a precursor to an accessible process for IT literate appellants it did not exactly fill one with confidence.

2 - the experience survey at the end was 2 questions and also suggested that the concept of engaging partners isn’t one HMCTS are going to get to grips with any time soon.

3 - I thought that the idea that TUGs had been used as a means to keep us fully engaged on this subject was outrageous. A once a year meeting at which we are told stuff is not engagement or working in partnership.

4 - very clear that no-one on the panel had been prepped to think about accessibility for disabled appellants or representatives (or indeed tribunal members). My question on accessibility testing was handled with a response which amounted to “It’s online and therefore it is more accessible for some people”. Technically true but an abject response in terms of what we already know about DWP and HMCTS and actual accessibility under EA 10. So, will it work with a screen reader? Who knows?

[ Edited: 26 Jun 2019 at 03:34 pm by Mike Hughes ]
Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Mike Hughes - 26 June 2019 03:07 PM

I was also one of the 150 and even managed to ask a question. To be fair I learnt more in 1 hour than HMCTS have given any of us in 3 years.I have comprehensive notes and will be trying to summarise them before the end of the day. A couple of initial observations:

Watched it with a colleague under her login on a big screen in our training room, so one of the 150+.

As per above found it really helpful, we asked several questions between us under colleagues name.

For those who missed it they will be able to see the slides, a recording of the event, and a write-up of some of the questions the panel didn’t have time to answer soon on the link below.

http://gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-reform-events-programme

Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Mike Hughes
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My notes.

This was a 1 hour webinar with 4 panel members:
Ed Owen (HMCTS Comms Director)
Dan Flury (HMCTS Deputy Director)
Russell Campbell (Resident Judge in Immigration/Asylum)
Mary Clarke (North West Regional Judge for Social Security).

There were 150 online participants and 50 people submitted questions either in advance or on the day. The recording of the session can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-reform-events-programme. The (singularly uninformative) 10 slides can be viewed at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/812485/Modernising_tribunals_event_slides_26_June_2019.pdf

Disappointingly the tech was robust for the full hour J. What follows are my summary notes. It’s only fair to say that this was more info. than we’ve had in 3 years. I have made an attempt to severely restrict my commentary.

There are many guiding principles to COR but amongst the ones which leapt out were that

• it should be sufficiently robust so as to still be in existence 30 years from now.
• it should be built in partnership.
• it should be financially viable.
• it should be accessible.

COR has run behind work done in the past 3 years around lodging ESA and PIP appeals online and “track your appeal” as it’s a much bigger task. The former has now seen 14,000 appeals lodged online and a 75% satisfaction rate. The intent is that COR now moves to the pilot stage for the Asylum and Immigration and Social Security chambers and in Manchester this will happen in the next few weeks and involve 36 cases.

The intentions for each chamber appear slightly different. In the former it includes reducing delays, complexity and paperwork whereas for social security it seems more about efficient processes, end to end online resolution and increasing participation in hearings. It was later explicitly stated that COR would not necessarily reduce social security delays as it was only one component of many.

COR is not compulsory. Appellants elect for it at the appeal stage and can change their mind later and elect for a paper, oral, video or phone hearing. A judge may disagree with that though. A judge may also determine that an appeal is more appropriate for COR e.g. if an appellant cannot attend or requested a paper hearing but, again, this can be challenged. Oral hearings were worryingly described as the “backstop”. The hardware and software for video and phone hearings will continue to be upgraded regardless of investment in COR.

PIP is being piloted because it’s the largest caseload so the assumption is that if these processes work for PIP they will work for everything else. The initial pilot will be English/Welsh only. In the longer term other “online language resources” (no idea what that means) may be made available but there are no plans for translation to be available via HMCTS.

There is no current provision for appointees or representatives to take part in COR cases. The initial focus will be on the use of full-time judges so training for COR will be limited.

All parties will be able to upload documents and once a bundle exists then the panel will compile their initial questions. The ominous word “portal” was mentioned. “Digital support” is available to lodge online appeals (if anyone can evidence this please let me know) but not for the COR process. IT literacy is the starting point for opting into COR. Parties are alerted to progress via email notifications so appellants need to opt into this. There could still be technical fails (as happens frequently with video at present) but there should be less impact as this is asynchronous chat rather than wholly live. The phrase “broadly confident it’ll all work“ leapt out as somewhat concerning.

Questions about compatibility and accessibility were largely batted off in a manner suggestive that the panel lacked the detailed knowledge to answer e.g. it was stated that the process would be compatible with mobile devices but it appears what was meant was compatible across different browsers rather than platforms so it may be that it’s compatible with Chrome on Windows but not Chrome on IOS. As yet, we don’t know. The whole COR process was described as being in “the foothills of development”.

As regards accessibility the only answer given to my question as to what testing had been done was that by definition having this process means social security tribunals are more accessible. A complete misreading of the question.

Appellants are given 7 days to respond and a further 7 days upon request. A further extension (of an unspecified time) can be granted in exceptional circumstances. Further questions will follow from each panel member with additional deadlines as above.

There will be a complete transcript of each COR case available to all parties as a text file. If an appellant does not respond then Mary Clarke stated explicitly that appeals will not be struck out. The decision under appeal stands until the appeal is determined. It will be interesting to see if this is how it plays out in reality as a number of decisions have been delegated to non-judicial staff/tribunal caseworkers. The caveat being that all such decisions should or can be referred to a judge for review if you ask.

Further developments will be done in partnership and in consultation. This claim was rather undone when, in response to an explicit question about consultation, Mary Clarke cited the existence of TUGs as an example of consultation on COR.

So, the gist is that we’re about to enter a very small scale pilot which will not impact us at all as it’s aimed at suitable cases with

• no representative or appointee;
• good English and IT literacy;
• unable to attend a hearing for one of a variety of reasons.

Ken Butler
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Here are some HMCTS blogs on aspects of the tribunal reform programme (video hearings, access to justice for vulnerable users, growth of online services) -

https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/category/interviews/?utm_medium=email&utm;_source 

As Mike has detailed, there are several potential problems with continuous online resolution (COR).

Not least issues of accessibility and lack of representation.

However, a COR hearing is not compulsory and someone can still opt for a ‘live’ hearing if dissatisfied with the COR decision.

But despite being pilots, an appellant does not have a choice as to whether to have a video hearing –

“It will always be a judicial decision, based on a range of factors, including participants’ completion of a suitability questionnaire.”

If dissatisfied with the outcome of a video hearing, the only options are a set aside on limited grounds or a leave to appeal to the Upper Tribunal application.

The panel at the recent one hour HMCTS webinar emphasised that participation in COR still meant that someone could choose to have a face to face hearing.

But if the decision as to video or face to face hearing is a judicial one will this always be the case?

Possibly by participating in a digital COR hearing, an appellant may arguably have shown they have digital skills sufficient to particpate in a video hearing.

But that is not the point.

The ability to choose a face to face hearing, no matter how digitally skilled someone is, can amount to the right to a fair trial.

Particularly in ESA and PIP cases where the ability of a tribunal to weigh up the veracity of an appellant’s personal evidence is crucial. 

Will ESA and PIP video hearing appeals have a 75% success rate (as is the case with face to face hearings)?

Dan Manville
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Ken Butler - 02 July 2019 12:16 PM

The panel at the recent one hour HMCTS webinar emphasised that participation in COR still meant that someone could choose to have a face to face hearing.

 

This misses one important point that didn’t come up in the webinar to my recollection. With COR; at the end, the appellant is made an offer and if they don’t agree with it it defaults to an oral hearing.

Cases won’t be disposed of at COR stage without the appellant being happy with the outcome; or at least resigned to it.

Granted, the appellant might be wrong in their contentment but that’s where access to representaion becomes key.

Ken Butler
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Hi Dan,

For me the issue is post COR - will the defaulting to an oral hearing be a face to face hearing?

Or could it be a video hearing irrespective of the appellant’s wishes?

Mike Hughes
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I’m not sure I read the defaulting to an oral hearing the same way as others but my understanding of the whole thing is that as we are largely in the “foothills of development” it’s likely oral hearings will be the default for many years to come. 

One of the things I still managed to miss out of my notes despite doing a thorough revision a couple of days later was that the right to observe hearings will be unchanged so, despite reps. not being involved in the pilot, we could talk to HMCTS about observing a COR session. Now wouldn’t that be interesting!

Ken Butler
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I’m not sure if HMCTS is aiming for the current level of face to face oral hearings for many years to come.

This is from the May 2019 National Audit Office Early progress in transforming courts and tribunals report -

By March 2023, HMCTS expects to employ 5,000 fewer staff, reduce the number of cases held in physical courtrooms by 2.4 million cases per year and reduce annual spending by £265 million. Savings will come from lower administrative and judicial staff costs, fewer physical hearings and running a smaller estate.
https://www.nao.org.uk/report/early-progress-in-transforming-courts-and-tribunals/

For me, unless COR and video hearings are extensively rolled out beyond pilots, its difficult to see how there can be a drop in cases held in physical courtrooms by 2.4 million cases per year in less than three years time.

Mike Hughes
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Their intentions and their capabilities are miles apart.

ClairemHodgson
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well they’re getting rid of all the low value PI cases by increasing the small claims limit and not allowing anyone to have a lawyer do a whiplash claim, so that gets rid of a fair few…

they’re running out of judges already at all levels…

Jezy
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Has any spotted the ‘write-up of some of the questions we didn’t have time to answer will be added shortly’ following on from the HMCTS webinar a month ago?