Contents

Introduction
What we have already achieved
What we want to do next
Improving the Customer Experience
E-Enable Services
Efficient Services
Delivering the Plan
Action Plan

Introduction

The Northern Ireland Court Service (“the Court Service”) is committed to delivering quality services for court users. In providing these services, we recognise the importance of being customer-focused and of placing the customer at the heart of what we do.

While we recognise that there will always be limitations to what we can do, there is considerable value in using customers’ needs as the starting point for designing, delivering and evaluating our service.

In supporting our Corporate aim of:

“Serving the community through the administration of justice”

this Business Modernisation and Customer Service Strategy sets out the Court Service’s vision of how we plan to develop our business until 2010/11 in order to deliver quality, customer-focused services.

We recognise that court users interact with the justice system in many different ways. Each customer requires access to information and services that meet their needs. In transforming our services we are committed to engaging and working effectively with others to ensure that our services meet their expectations. Our key stakeholders include the judiciary, legal profession, criminal justice organisations, other government agencies and those who work in the voluntary and community sectors and individual citizens.

During the period covered by this Strategy the Court Service will build on the extensive change programme delivered in the preceding three years in order to further improve our business performance. We shall continue to modernise service delivery channels and streamline business processes by building on our existing ICOS (Integrated Court Operations System) ICT infrastructure. We shall also ensure that resources such as our staff, buildings and funding are targeted at delivering improved outcomes for customers.

The Court Service is committed to improving our service to customers through the introduction of technology solutions and modern information systems to support court administration. Our aim is to improve access to our services and to provide a more effective and efficient customer-focused service.

What We Have Already Achieved

In the last three years we delivered a number of major business modernisation and customer service programmes which have transformed the way in which we work. These include –

ICT enabled business processing: ICOS & Causeway

The Court Service has developed an

ICT-enabled business platform called the Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS). Our vision was to provide a single, integrated court operations system which will support the business operations of the criminal, civil and family courts. This programme was delivered on time and within budget and now supports court operations across all court tiers.

Delivery of ICOS has greatly increased the proportion of court work managed through ICT systems. We have moved from fragmented local court administration to a fully integrated service responsive to customer needs. ICOS has also supported organisational redesign through the establishment of a number of Service Centres including a Civil Processing Centre at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast and a Payment and Juror Management Centre at Londonderry Courthouse. These Service Centres provide centralised business processing for all of the courts in Northern Ireland.

Building on ICOS, we have been working with colleagues in the other criminal justice organisations to develop and implement the Causeway Programme. This ICT programme will provide for the electronic exchange of information on criminal cases between the PSNI, Forensic Science Service, Public Prosecution Service, Court Service, Prison Service and Probation Board. The vision for the Causeway Programme is that all the information shared within the criminal justice system will be accessible electronically.

Web-based Services

We have consulted customers on the range of web-based services they would find beneficial. To date we have delivered the following online services:

Courtroom Technology Programme

The Court Service has provided technology-enabled courts in Laganside Courts and the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Dungannon Courthouse, Londonderry Courthouse and a portable video evidence display kit which can be installed at other court locations when required. The response to the deployment of this new technology from the Judiciary and the legal profession has been very positive.

By using enabling technology such as Electronic Presentation of Evidence we can improve both the quality and speed of information for those involved in complex court cases where documentary evidence can amount to many thousands of pages.

We provide remote CCTV Links and Video Conferencing Technology that enable the court to view and hear witness testimony from secure video suites within the court building and remote video conferencing from virtually anywhere in the world. A recent initiative has linked the NSPCC premises in Londonderry to the local courthouse to further safeguard vulnerable victims and witnesses.

The Court Service has implemented Digital Audio Recording (DAR) in 48 of the 85 courtrooms across the court estate. This is supplemented by a further 17 portable DAR systems which can be deployed anywhere. This technology offers superior quality sound recording and provides a more efficient system for storage and retrieval.

Other customer service initiatives

We have implemented a range of other initiatives to improve the quality of our service to customers at each of our court venues.

In consultation with our customers, we have introduced service standards for key customer groups to clearly set out the level of service that our customers can expect. These standards are measured and reported on at each court venue. We have also published facilities standards at each court location.

In order to assist in reducing avoidable delay for our customers, we have appointed Case Progression Officers for criminal cases. Case Progression Officers are responsible for ensuring that all procedural and administrative issues in relation to cases are actively pursued and that the court is kept informed of the ongoing status of cases. This includes issues such as confirming the availability of witnesses, making arrangements for any special measures required for court hearings, ensuring compliance with court directions and ensuring that the needs of victims and witnesses are met.

In conjunction with the other criminal justice organisations we have developed a Victim and Witness Strategy and have worked with Victim Support NI in relation to the refurbishment of Victim and Witness rooms throughout the court estate. In addition we have developed a guidance booklet for children appearing as witnesses in civil courts.

We seek feedback from our customers through our Customer Surveys.

We have introduced a telephone interpreting service at public counters in

Dungannon and Laganside Courts. Where a customer is unable to speak English staff will contact a ‘language line’ operator who will provide a trained interpreter to assist the customer. The service is completely confidential

What We Want To Do Next

This section of the Strategy sets out what we want to achieve to further improve our business delivery to customers. We shall continue to modernise service delivery channels and streamline business processes by building on our existing ICT infrastructure. Making better use of our staffing resources and court estate will play a key part in delivering this strategy.

Our Business Modernisation and Customer Service Strategy is based around three key themes –

IMPROVING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Performance standards

The Court Service is committed to providing quality customer-focused services. We have published performance standards to inform customers about what they can expect when they use our services and facilities.

During the period covered by this strategy we shall review these performance standards in consultation with our customers. In addition we shall monitor our performance against these standards quarterly and display the results at each court venue.

We have appointed customer service officers at each court venue as a point of contact for customers. We shall provide our customer service officers with additional training to assist them in their role. We shall incorporate victim awareness training in our induction training for new staff.

In addition to these performance standards, we shall carry out customer journey mapping. Customer journey mapping is the process of tracking all the experiences that customers have as they encounter a service. We believe that this process will provide us with a greater insight into our customers’ needs and preferences and will allow us to better meet their needs.

In order to provide additional validation of the quality of service we provide we shall carry out an independent customer survey every two years to measure customer satisfaction with our service and we shall publish the results of this survey on our internet site and at local court venues. We shall also carry out a mystery shopper exercise to supplement customer feedback and provide independent monitoring of our performance standards.

During the Strategy period we shall develop a customer service strategy for the tribunals we administer.

Accommodation and Courthouse facilities

The Court Service is committed to ensuring that court users have access to accommodation of the highest quality. Customers can expect to find a consistently high standard at all court venues. All of our venues will provide a comfortable, clean and secure environment for all court users and will meet the specific needs of victims, children and persons with disabilities. A comprehensive range of facilities is available at each principal Courthouse with a corresponding provision, depending on business type, at satellite venues within County Court Divisions.

During the period covered by this strategy we plan to upgrade our waiting facilities for vulnerable victims and intimidated witnesses and review the facilities we currently provide for children and jurors.

In addition we shall work with our security personnel to provide a safe and secure environment for all court users.

We are developing a new Court Estate Strategy to shape the courthouse estate in Northern Ireland for the mid-to-longer term. Our expectation is that we shall eventually see a reduction in the number of courthouses which we operate, while at the same time providing buildings of the highest quality and accessibility to meet customer expectations.

Information services

Accurate, comprehensive and timely information is important to our customers.

Their perception of, and confidence in, the justice system will be affected by how well they feel they have been kept informed about the progress of their case.

During the period covered by this strategy we shall develop our Customer Information Centre which will be available to all Court Service customers. We shall work with the statutory and voluntary organisations who deliver services in our courts to ensure that access to information is maintained. Also, we plan to work with other organisations involved in the criminal justice system to develop a pilot project to examine the feasibility of a one-stop-shop information resource for victims and witnesses.

In addition to these physical access points we shall provide customers with the information they need in ways which meet their needs and preferences, using a variety of appropriate channels. We shall upgrade our internet site to ensure that it provides information and services in the way that customers want.

We also recognise that there is a growing need to ensure that we cater for those customers whose first language is not English and we plan to review the provision of foreign language information. In addition a working group will consider arrangements for the provision and accreditation of interpretation services for court proceedings.

Accreditation and inspection

The Court Service is committed to external assessment and review to ensure that our services are of an objectively high standard and meet public service quality standards. We are committed to maintaining recognised quality service accreditation in all our courts through the new national standard for customer service excellence (formerly known as Charter Mark) and through the European Foundation for Quality Management in the Enforcement of Judgments Office.

We shall also support the work of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) whose role is to inspect criminal justice organisations with a view to identifying scope for improvement. CJINI’s statutory remit now includes inspection of the Court Service and our Non Departmental Public Body the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission.

E-ENABLED SERVICES

Our investment in our Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS) has already allowed us to transform the way in which we work and has improved access to justice by allowing our customers to engage with us in a variety of new ways.Delivering quality services must be a process of continuous improvement and it is vital that we continue to explore new opportunities that will allow us to capitalise on our investment in technology.

In the same way that Causeway will achieve benefits through data sharing by the various criminal justice organisations, we shall explore opportunities to extend the range of ICOS interfaces with other organisations and agencies. As part of this strategy, we shall investigate the potential to extend the development of electronic interfaces to support suitable high volume business processes which would allow us to further reduce our processing overheads.

We are currently developing two new ICOS links with PSNI Fixed Penalties and Driver and Vehicle Licensing. It is anticipated that these links will remove the data entry of a further 11,000 cases per annum.

As well as responsibility for all of Northern Ireland’s courts, the Court Service also has responsibility for the administration of a number of tribunals including the Office of the Social Security Commissioners and Child Support Commissioners, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal and the Northern Ireland Valuation Tribunal. The Northern Ireland Executive has approved, in principle, a Tribunal Reform Programme under which the Court Service will assume responsibility for running all of Northern Ireland’s tribunals to become a unified Courts and Tribunals

Service.

We believe that many of the benefits ICOS has brought to court administration will equally be applicable to tribunals and we shall establish an ICOS Tribunals Project to evaluate the scope to develop ICOS to support tribunal operations.

Causeway Programme

We shall work with our criminal justice partners to further develop the Causeway Programme. The next phase of the Causeway Programme is scheduled for implementation in 2009 and will fully integrate the Court Service’s ICOS ICT platform with Causeway. When details of a prosecution are entered onto Causeway, these will be automatically transferred to ICOS without having to be re-entered. This will remove the data entry of approximately 47,000 criminal cases by court offices per annum resulting in staff efficiencies which can be redeployed to other frontline services.

Similarly, when court results are entered into ICOS, this information will be available through Causeway to relevant criminal justice organisations such as the Prison Service, Public Prosecution Service and the PSNI. This will ensure that the criminal justice organisations have access to timely and accurate information about cases such as bail conditions; warrants; sentences and adjournment dates. This will significantly reduce the number of routine queries from partner agencies.

Telephony and online services

In response to customer demand, we shall continue to explore opportunities to extend the range of telephony and online services which we currently offer. The extension of online case initiation to business areas such as County Court Civil Bills and High Court Writs will facilitate online case tracking. We shall also explore the feasibility of developing solutions to accept online payment of fines and maintenance payments, and to enable citizens to respond to Jury Notices online, by telephone and email.

Electronic Filing and Document Management (EFDM)

We shall evaluate the scope for introducing Electronic Filing and Document

Management in the Court Service. EFDM has the potential to deliver benefits in civil and family court business similar to those achieved through ICOS and Causeway in relation to criminal court business.

We already offer a number of online services which allow parties to court proceedings to submit applications electronically. EFDM will enable parties to file documents electronically. This would allow case documents to be accessed and managed electronically during the court process and stored and managed following case disposal. EFDM could also be integrated with ICOS in order to eliminate duplicate data entry.

EFFICIENT SERVICES

Hearing Centres

The Court Service is committed to ensuring that court users have access to accommodation of the highest quality. Courthouses should adequately meet the needs of all court users including vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, children and disabled people. However, there are a number of courthouses in Northern Ireland that currently do not meet, and cannot be upgraded at a reasonable cost to meet, these standards.

Providing increased access to justice by using new technology provides greater convenience for our customers and reduces the need to go to a courthouse. In planning how we provide services we need to distinguish more accurately what must be delivered locally and what can be delivered centrally or through alternative IT enabled methods.

The Court Service is consulting on proposals to establish Hearing Centres at a number of court venues. Hearing Centres would only be open on court sitting days and on these days they would provide a full range of court office services.

The proposals to establish Hearing Centres are the subject of a separate public consultation exercise.

Review of Court Boundaries

Court boundaries in Northern Ireland have traditionally been mapped against local government districts. Last year, the Environment Minister announced proposals to reduce the current 26 local government districts to create new local government districts in time the 2011 council elections.

Court locations across Northern Ireland The local government boundary changes provide an opportunity to review our current jurisdictional boundary arrangements, including exploring the feasibility of establishing a single Northern Ireland court jurisdiction. Providing customers with access to justice at a convenient court location will always be a significant consideration when listing court business, but a single Northern Ireland jurisdiction would provide greater flexibility to manage court business by allocating cases to a neighbouring court. This is not always possible under the current model.

A single Northern Ireland jurisdiction would also allow us to establish different administrative arrangements for listing particular types of case. For example, in criminal business it may be appropriate to list cases based on PSNI District Command Unit boundaries or on Public Prosecution Service Circuits. Similarly, it may be appropriate to consider listing public family law based on Health and Social Services Trust boundaries.

Boundary reforms will also require us to review the existing court estate to ensure that appropriate accommodation and facilities are available to deal with the business. Any proposal to reform court boundaries will be the subject of a separate public consultation exercise.

Business Process Improvement

We are redesigning the Royal Courts of Justice back office functions. This work builds on the creation of a very successful RCJ “Front of House” service which provides a single contact point for the various offices within that building. The back office redesign seeks to achieve efficiencies by centralising functions which would previously have been carried out in a number of different offices within the Royal Courts of Justice.

We have already established a Civil Processing Centre which processes all County Court Civil Bill and small claims business for the whole of Northern Ireland. We propose to build on this by establishing a single Case Initiation Centre for Northern Ireland which will process all types of court business outside the scope of the Causeway Programme or which are not suitable for online case initiation. Court users will use the Case Initiation Centre to lodge documents and pay court fees.

A significant amount of staff time and resource is taken up dealing with routine queries (e.g. listing queries, court results, fees etc). We consider that this type of work could be dealt with much more efficiently through a central point and we propose to establish a centralised CourtsNI Contact Centre to deal with all routine requests for information and to respond to queries by telephone or email. There will be one contact number for “CourtsNI” and callers will have their query dealt with by a pool of customer service staff who will have access

to the ICOS database. Where a query cannot be handled within the Contact Centre it can be quickly transferred to the appropriate court office for resolution.

We will modernise the business processes of the Enforcement of Judgments Office and make best use of available technology to meet creditors’ expectations and debtors’ needs. This will be taken forward in the lifetime of this Strategy and all relevant stakeholders will be consulted on proposed reforms.

Fine Enforcement

In order to address concerns around the cost and effectiveness of current arrangements for fine enforcement, we shall work with colleagues in other criminal justice agencies to develop a range of alternative methods for recovering court imposed fines.

In the interim, we propose to extend the use of Fines Officers to all court divisions in Northern Ireland. This initiative was subject to a six month pilot study at Laganside Courts and sought to encourage prompt payment of fines through direct contact with the defendants and thereby reduce the enforcement burden on the police and prisons. The results of the Fines Collection Pilot showed that the number of fines being paid without the need for enforcement action increased by 21% and the number of committal warrants issued decreased by almost one-third.

Delivering the plan

This Business Modernisation and Customer Service Strategy builds on achievements to date and represents a challenging reform programme reflecting the needs of the ever increasingly diverse community we serve.

The delivery of the various projects set out in the Strategy will be subject to the availability of financial resources and value for money considerations. We shall ensure that each project is based on a sound business case which clearly identifies the costs and benefits involved. Each project will be subject to rigorous governance arrangements to ensure that deliverables are achieved.

Integral to the delivery and success of this Strategy is the capacity of our staff, effective partnership with our ICT provider and constructive engagement with our key stakeholders and customers.

The delivery of this Strategy will be overseen by our Business Modernisation Board and will be managed in annual action plans which will be published on our website www.courtsni.gov.uk. Progress against each Action Plan will be reported in our Annual Report.

BUSINESS MODERNISATION AND CUSTOMER SERVICE STRATEGY

Action Plan 2009 / 2010

We shall improve our customers’ experience by:

We shall extend our E-enabled Business by:

We shall provide more Efficient Services by: