Skip to main content

How we're transforming justice: Digital Justice speech at Sprint 16

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Courts and tribunals, Development, Prisons, User research

Arif Harbott, our Chief Digital & Information Officer, talks about transforming the justice system at the Sprint 16 government digital conference.

Transcript of the speech

Good afternoon. Digital Justice was born from some simple questions. What if data could be shared and accessed across the entire criminal justice system? What if the system was seamlessly joined up for citizens? And what if you could reduce inefficiencies and give citizens access to swifter, fairer justice?

My name is Arif Harbott, I’m from the MOJ, and today I’m going to take you through how we’re looking to transform justice.

We started as we always do with a discovery, but this was no ordinary discovery. It was initially co-sponsored by GDS as part of the enabling strategy. It was a cross-functional but more importantly a cross-departmental team of MOJ, Home Office and GDS people.

The team spent 12 weeks really deeply understanding the end-to-end system, and really understanding the user need. They visited prisons, they sat in courtrooms, they went to police stations and they interviewed victims.

What we found, unsurprisingly, was a complex proliferation of silos and systems; different organisations referring to things in different ways, quantifying outcomes in different ways.

This shouldn’t be surprising because the end-to-end justice system has never actually been designed. It’s grown organically layer by layer over the years.

What we did create was the first map of the entire criminal justice system, end to end, as experienced by its users outside of organisational boundary. This is really, really important, because users don’t see Police, CPS, HMCTS and NOMS. What they see is ‘I’ve been arrested, ‘I’ve been charged’, ‘I’m going to court’, and ‘I’m going through prisons and probation’.

Criminal justice services landscape: a diagram showing the relationship between different parts of the criminal justice system
Criminal justice services landscape: a diagram showing the relationship between different parts of the criminal justice system

So how do we use this map? We use this map to ensure alignment across many of the programmes that are going on across justice. These are just a few of them. You have Digital First, which is the police. You have Common Platform from HMCTS that are looking to digitalise the criminal proceedings in courts. And you have Digital Prisons, which I’ll talk about a bit later on.

It gives us a bird’s-eye view of the end-to-end system that the Digital Justice team can then look at and say ‘Look, where are the gaps?’ ‘Where are the areas where we should be focusing some initiatives?’ And also ‘Where are the gaps and intersections between departments that we can really jump in and look across 2 or 3 boundaries?’

It also allows us to take a platforms-led approach. Many of these programmes are building the same things time and time again, so why don’t we build things once, and share it across the entire system.

I don’t have time to go through this in great detail, but we also mapped all of our technology systems.

We also mapped all of data flows, and again I don’t have time to through this, but the key takeaway here is that the system is built on a foundation of paper. All the way from a police officer’s notebook, though various printing and scanning into different systems, all the way out to a probation officer who has to print out their reports.

So what is the vision for Digital Justice? The vision is a digitally-enabled end-to-end justice system to reduce manual processes and inefficiencies. A joined-up user experience that guides the citizen all the way through the process – and many citizens only go through this process once, so they really need a lot of hand-holding. And also a framework where data can be shared and accessed, as a foundation to deliver justice more efficiently.

There are 3 areas that we’re focusing on. The first one, a common theme here today, is data. We’re working on a set of data principles. Again a cross-functional, cross-department team are looking at a set of guiding principles that will guide us through design and development of our technologies and processes and people. Some of these sound really, really obvious and easy, and I’ll give you a couple of examples, but they fundamentally change the way that we work.

A couple of examples:

‘Make data free to access’. Sounds obvious, but many of the APIs that we use in justice you actually have to pay for, which dis-incentivises their use.

‘Make data high quality’. It will be upon the person who owns and stores the data to make it high quality, such that when people use that data they can do so with confidence.

And we’re saying that access to data is equally as important as data security. What you find is that many initiatives spend a lot of time locking their data down, and then right at the end they go, ‘we’d better spend our last half a percent of budget on making it accessible’, and often that never happens. We’re saying access is equally as important as security.

The other part of our data initiative is that we’re looking at moving from monoliths to microservices. What that means is that moving away from these huge, enormous systems that do many things, to smaller, more modular systems that do one thing well. We believe an architecture for justice will comprise of many microservices. Over time these groups of services could mean we could start decommissioning some of our legacy systems.

The other benefit, which has already been talked about, is that it will start giving us canonical sources of data, because at the moment similar datasets are stored multiple times in multiple systems, making it very difficult to understand the single version of the truth.

The next area is triage. This is about improving the front-door to justice, directing the citizen to the right place first time and minimising police and court time. A few examples of work we’re doing in this area: report a crime online, on the Home Office, and ‘direct my call’. 4,000 calls a day to Greater Manchester Police, 40% of which are redirected elsewhere. It’s a gross waste of time for the citizen and for the call centre teams. So wouldn’t it be great if we had a tool where we could enter a little bit of information about what you’re trying to do, and it gave you some contact information, either that be local police or local council or another organisation.

Plea online, which is being developed by HMCTS and Common Platform. What this is is that previously if you wanted to plead guilty you had to go to court, and we’re creating a tool such that you could plead guilty online and pay a fine. Again, great for the citizen – much faster for them. And great for the court, because it means it frees up time so they can focus on more complex cases.

The last one is digital policy-making, which is joint initiative between digital and policy colleagues to really change the way that the out-of-court family pathway works. So at the moment you have to go through a court for mediation if you’re getting separated. We’re saying perhaps that’s not the best way for mediation. Wouldn’t it be better if there were online tools or other ways of mediating, again to free up court time and get the best outcome for citizens.

And last but not least is prisons. The Prime Minister announced there’s 1.3 billion pounds' worth of investment going in to transform and reform the Prison Service. Digital and technology will be at the heart of the design of these new prisons. We’re going to use digital services to improve the safety and security of prisons, through new video conferencing services, such that you can have more cases in prisons as opposed to moving people between courts and prisons. And last but not least is education and training. Online tools for better access for education and training, not at the expense of public safety, but to support rehabilitation.

Now this is a very, very quick whirlwind tour. We’re just at the start of our journey, and we have so many more exciting products in this area, so please – if you see me around later – just grab me. I’d love to hear if you have any questions, and I’d love to tell you more about what we’re doing. So thank you very much.

We'd love to know what you think about these issues – please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Don't miss out on future blog posts: sign up for email alerts.

Sharing and comments

Share this page

1 comment

  1. Comment by John posted on

    It's clear that the speaker has no understanding of the CJS or the history of IT delivery into the sector. Both incorrect and naive. As such this is destined to be no more than a GDS propaganda show that is expensive for the taxpayer.


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person

By submitting a comment you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy notice to see how the GOV.UK blogging platform handles your information.