SCL Event Report: Annual Lecture “IT for the Courts: Creating a Digital Future”

May 21, 2014

On 20 May 2014, a range of expertise from the IT law community was gathered together at Clyde & Co’s offices to attend the SCL Annual Lecture provided by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. The Lord Chief Justice was welcomed to the event by Margaret Tofalides (Partner at Clyde & Co); Professor Richard Susskind (the SCL President) introduced the widely anticipated speaker. The full text of the Lecture is now available via the Judiciary web site here.

The Lord Chief Justice began with a consideration of why the modernisation of judicial IT systems is a necessity and thus a subject appropriate as the basis of the 2014 SCL Lecture. Factors included the present inefficiency of court case management systems, the current online presence of most businesses, and the fact that judicial filing systems are both difficult to use and outdated. Consequently (as announced in March), a major programme of investment is planned with three main aims: to introduce modern technology, to gain an improved estate and to modernise current working practices. After the Lord Chief Justice had established a sound financial case for investment in IT for the courts, he proceeded to consider the history of IT reform and past attempts to introduce an official case management system to make access to justice easier.


The Lord Chief Justice looked back at Lord Woolf’s report 19 years ago, indicating as it did that the inefficient operation of the civil justice system needed to be reformed in line with the US approach to using IT in the courts. Both clear understanding and practically feasible aims were highlighted as necessary ingredients for successful reform. The Lord Chief Justice then continued to travel through time, notably covering the establishment of the “Modernising the Civil Courts” programme in October 1999 and the prioritisation of the rollout of IT infrastructure and the creation of an electronic case management system under the 2001 “The Courts and Tribunal Modernisation Programme”. Bringing us to within 10 years of the present, he reflected upon the lessons learnt from past attempts at reform. The audience were left with the following nine thought (and comment) provoking lessons:


·        projects must be supported by security of funding;

·        an integrated approach across all jurisdictions must be adopted;

·        judicial participation in governance is necessary;

·        a clear agreement on what is needed should be made at the outset;

·        systems should be designed at the outset in tandem with a rigorous system of procurement;

·        technical change should be anticipated;

·        there should be continuity in the delivery of projects and identifiable individuals capable of being held to account;

·        processes should be built around IT and not the other way around; and

·        when promises are made, there must be a clear basis for them and complete confidence in their delivery. 

Richard Susskind then opened the floor to a question and answer session. There were many questions and a lively exchange. Clive Freedman from 3 Verulam Buildings (SCL Trustee) gave the vote of thanks for the captivating lecture.  

Amy Franklin is a trainee solicitor at Clyde & Co. 

SCL members may also be interested in blogged reports on the lecture here (John Halton with some pertinent esprit d’escalier thoughts) and here (Litigation Futures with a good report).