HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an agency of the Ministry of Justice, deals with two million criminal cases, 1.8 million civil claims, more than 150,000 family law disputes and almost 800,000 tribunal cases annually
The agency’s National Taxing Team (NTT) is responsible for determining discretionary claims for costs in the criminal courts. These include orders for costs out of central funds to acquitted defendants, private prosecutors, and court appointees in the Crown Court and Magistrates Court, discretionary claims for costs under a Representation Order or the advocates graduated fee scheme. For example, claims for special and wasted preparation, and fees relating to confiscation proceedings.
The NTT aims to make its services available to all sections of the community and it is made up of widely distributed units across the UK. These include sub-offices and home workers in Cornwall, the North East and Wales. With 40 people dispersed nationwide, the NTT was faced with the challenge of bringing team members together for technical discussions. Colleagues needed to determine the costs associated with numerous criminal cases, deciding which work would be allowed, the rates at which that work would be remunerated, and to ensure there were no discrepancies in the approach. Peter FitzGerald-Morris, Determining Officer, NTT Webmaster & Librarian, explains:
“When you have a number of different applications for defendants’ legal costs, you have to have consistency with the rates for solicitors and barristers. Uniform rates help to save public funds, and email simply wasn’t an efficient tool for the kind of collective discussions we were having. Numerous emails were flying back and forth, and information can easily get lost in people’s inboxes. With everyone in different locations, we needed a service that could bring people together in a secure online environment so that would had a central pool of information and one place to have discussions and make group decisions.”
NTT had tried on a number of occasions to adopt systems that would enable it to streamline working practices and keep information in a central place, but tools examined proved unreliable or did not meet stringent government security requirements. Huddle was presented to the NTT by the Ministry of Justice and it appealed to the organisation due to the fact it enabled cross-firewall collaboration and had the appropriate security requirements in place.
“Huddle was the first service that HM Courts and Tribunals Service was happy for us to deploy,” continues FitzGerald-Morris. “The service was already being used across other central government departments and it has proved to be a godsend for us. Previously, you’d have to sift through your inbox to find previous discussions and cases from 20 years ago to get the information you need. Gradually, we’ve moved all of these materials into the Huddle file section, along with links to related discussions and background material. Regardless of whether you’re sitting in our main offices in Birmingham or Manchester, or working remotely, you can securely access the most up to date version of all the information you need. Having the ability to store documents and records centrally, discuss all related matters in a one online environment and give people the ability to work from home on their laptops has transformed the way that NTT works.”