PCS signals breakthrough on Common Platform talks – but campaign to scrap IT system will continue
Members of union encouraged to accept latest offer from HMCTS
Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0
The PCS union’s long-running dispute with HM Courts and Tribunal Service over the Common Platform IT system could soon end, with members encouraged to accept the latest offer to end the dispute.
Even if members approve the offer, however, PCS has indicated that it will continue to campaign for the controversial case-management system to be scrapped.
HMCTS has acknowledged that there are faults within Common Platform and has offered autonomy for legal advisers and court associates in deciding which cases put into the system out of court and, PCS said.
The union said the courts service had also offered assurance that “the HMCTS Common Platform staff blame culture will end” and real action will be taken to combat stress and anxiety caused by the IT system, the union added.
Legal advisers and court associates across the country have held a series of strikes last year over concerns about the technology, with HMCTS pausing the rollout of Common Platform several times in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
The union said it has been in intensive negotiations with HMCTS management and has secured significant concessions which it believes are “sufficient” to end the dispute. PCS said it believes that “this is the best offer that can be arrived at through our negotiations and that further concessions could not be achieved without an escalation of industrial action”.
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It said the offer will ensure that legal advisers and court associates are “directly involved in combatting issues with Common Platform and holding HMCTS to account on resolving them”.
The union will electronically ballot members on the offer until noon on Tuesday 21 March.
Karen Watts, group assistant secretary for PCS and leader of the campaign said: "Action taken by members has forced HMCTS to acknowledge that Common Platform has been an enormous source of stress in the court room. It has resulted in significant concessions which will deliver protections for members in the workplace and a framework to deliver more.”
PCS also said that, while it was not the motivation for the dispute, 450 associated jobs have now been protected until 2024 as part of the offer.
PCS's concerns about the IT system, which began being rolled out in September 2020, include an “alarming increase in reports of stress and anxiety and long working” since its introduction.
These concerns were echoed in a recent report released by the National Audit Office. The public-spending watchdog said the problems with the unpopular Common Platform digital case-management system are the most concerning part of HMCTS’s £1.3bn transformation programme, and had “put avoidable pressure on the courts at a critical time”.
PCS said it will continue its campaign for Common Platform, which is currently live in 173 courts, to be scrapped, however.
“Nothing in this prevents PCS continuing to campaign for an end to the Common Platform and its significant failings,” the union said.
PCS also warned that strike action could resume in future, saying it will “reinvoke the dispute” if HMCTS does not deliver on what it has offered.
A HMCTS spokesperson said: “Common Platform is fundamental to modernising the criminal court system – replacing out-of-date systems and freeing up court staff so we can better deliver justice for all. We will continue to work closely with the unions and our staff to support them during the transition.”
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