Vice Chair of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association, Michael Jackson, looks at the need for modernisation of writs in England and Wales.
In an age where digital transformation is reshaping every facet of society, the legal system is no exception. While electronic judgments were already introduced several years ago it seems almost impossible to believe that there isn’t yet a digital system for submitting and processing writs in the County and High courts, although a semi-electronic system is just now being considered.
At present, High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) submit around 140,000 writs to the court system each year. This is equal to approximately 360,000 pages of forms which must be filled in by hand, sent by post to the courts to manually seal, then returned by post to the issuing HCEO who must then manually process them.
Not only is this incredibly time consuming, but it is also costly, has negative environmental impacts and raises important points around accessibility and future improvements to the justice system.
Efficiency gains through digital transformation
Introducing a digital process for submitting writs would have significant impact on time saved by both HCEOs and the courts. Paperwork could be sent and received within minutes rather than days and electronic copies can be easily searched for and recalled if needed.
It would allow for better resource allocation in both enforcement businesses and the courts, which would enable HCEOs and the court’s teams to focus on other important areas.
Of course, this time saving would equate to financial savings to the public purse as court staff usually paid to manually complete writs could be assigned to other tasks. Courts and enforcement businesses would also see tangible cost savings by spending less on stationery, storage, printing, and postage, which would limit future upward pressure on enforcement fees. (As an aside High Court enforcement fees have been static for a decade now, though the Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing them, but that is another article for another day).
Enhanced security and analytics
Digital formats would provide enhanced security for all involved. Paper documents are vulnerable to loss, damage, or theft, which can be disastrous in legal cases. With digital storage and encryption measures, sensitive case information is better protected. Access controls ensure that only authorised individuals can view or modify the documents, preserving the integrity and reputation of the enforcement process.
There is also a real opportunity to use digitisation of writs to analyse case data to identify trends, track performance metrics, and make informed decisions about resource allocation and procedural improvements. This data-driven approach can lead to more informed policy decisions and optimisations within the justice system and enforcement businesses.
Streamlined case management and accessibility
Whilst accepting accessibility by phone is vitally important for many, we also need to ensure that we embrace other methods as well. Enforcement businesses have already made significant investments into digital customer communications with many using email, webchat, and online customer portals to enable self-service.
As we move forward and continue to evolve, there will be a growing demand by customers to have much greater accessibility with expectations for enforcement businesses to have facilities operating 24/7.
Moving towards a digital first future will give UK businesses and individuals hoping to recover the money that is owed to them greater trust in the enforcement process, with enforcement agents able to show electronic versions of instructions and, where possible, producing live documentation electronically at the point of need.
Electronic sharing of documents allows for real-time updates, comments, and revisions. This collaborative approach not only improves communication but also expedites case preparation and resolution. Enforcement agents can work more efficiently, leading to better outcomes for their clients.
Going digital is also a step towards environmental sustainability. The legal system, like any other sector, produces a significant amount of paper waste. By reducing the reliance on paper and embracing digital alternatives, the enforcement profession can contribute to environmental conservation efforts. This move aligns with broader societal goals of reducing the carbon footprint and preserving natural resources.
The future of enforcement
Above all, a more efficient and accessible legal system positively impacts public perception. When people and businesses experience faster case resolution, reduced administrative hassles, and improved access to legal services, they are more likely to trust and engage with the justice system. This fosters a sense of fairness and accountability, which are essential elements of a just society.
While HCEOA is encouraging its members to continue to invest in improvements to their systems and welcomes the move to be able to apply for a writ by email as opposed to post, what’s really needed is a digitisation plan for writ enforcement. Ideally, we need a streamlined digital writ that can be automatically submitted via a digital link with the courts, so that Judgment Debtor Applications, Stays and other Court Orders can automatically notify the HCEOs, but that system change lies with the Government.