Courts service pauses implementation of IT system after clashes with union

Written by Tevye Markson on 23 September 2022 in News

Rollout of Common Platform is temporarily suspended after PCS members voted to strike

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HM Courts and Tribunals Service has paused the rollout of its troubled Common Platform digital system for case management.

PCS members were due to strike over Common Platform’s “negative impact on [staff's] health, safety and welfare” from 10 September to 18 September but postponed following the death of the Queen two days beforehand.

The planned industrial action, which would have involved legal advisers and court associates, aimed to highlight the need for dialogue with HMCTS management about the implementation of Common Platform, a system PCS labelled “fundamentally flawed”.

The union then met with HMCTS on 15 September to discuss potential ways of resolving the dispute over the platform, which allows parties including the judiciary; solicitors and barristers; the Crown Prosecution Service; and court staff to access case information.

HMCTS has now agreed to the union’s first demand, to halt the platform’s implementation to allow for negotiations to begin “in good faith, in the hope of resolving the dispute”.

PCS, which is the civil service’s largest union, said it believes this is “a reasonable first step to show us they have listened and that they are committed to resolve the dispute”.

However, the union criticised the way HMCTS announced the decision to suspend the rollout, which did not acknowledge PCS's influence.

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“The communication which was sent out yesterday afternoon by management was not given to PCS in advance, as is good practice when communicating information that would impact the dispute,” PCS said. “It also massively downplayed the role of PCS and our members in getting management around the table and talking seriously about how we resolve the dispute. PCS has no doubt that this move to pause has been brought about by our ballot mandate and our second ballot; applying pressure and showing the huge resistance our members feel towards the Common Platform rollout."

PCS has a mandate for strike action for the first group of courts impacted by the implementation of the IT system.

The union said it is “still very much in dispute” over Common Platform and will await the result of its national strike ballot on 26 September before deciding what to do next.

“In the meantime, we will continue to negotiate with HMCTS to find a satisfactory resolution to the dispute,” PCS said. “We made it clear to HMCTS that a satisfactory outcome to this dispute is not just a pause to the roll out but also to deal with the issues at stake for where the Common Platform is being used now and over the time since its introduction.”

Union members who are legal advisers and court associates voted 93% in favour of strike action in a recent ballot, where turnout was 61%.

Last year, PCS said stress and anxiety levels among officials had gone “through the roof” since the introduction of Common Platform began in September 2020. It said the system had been beset with technical problems and delays that had slowed cases and added to backlogs.

Once fully implemented, Common Platform is intended to deliver a single, unified replacement for a patchwork of five separate digital case-management tools. Work on the system began in 2016 and, two years into the rollout, there are 136 courts – equating to about three-fifths of the planned total across England and Wales – that have implemented the new platform.

HMCTS has been approached for comment.


About the author

Tevye Markson is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @TevyeMarkson.

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