Broken justice? HMCTS poll finds most court users happy

The majority of people using the courts service in England and Wales are content with their experience, new research has shown. In a survey commissioned by HM Courts and Tribunal Service, 54% of respondents rated their encounter as ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’. In comparison, 38% summed up their time in court as fairly poor or very poor.

The poll also found high levels of trust in HMCTS, that three-quarters of people felt they were treated with respect, and that most users (61%) were satisfied with the outcome of their case.

Even delays were not reported as a huge area of discontent: half of users thought the time taken for their case was satisfactory, versus 43% who said the process was too slow.

The research casts satisfaction levels in a different light to reports in recent months, where problems with the court estate have been highlighted. It also suggests court users cherish the face-to-face access they currently enjoy, as the government considers greater use of remote justice and more court closures.

The research consisted of a survey of 1,031 courts and tribunal service users in the criminal, family, civil and tribunal jurisdictions, conducted between January 2017 and October 2017. Researcher Kantar Public also conducted 48 in-depth interviews and eight focus groups.

Users in general anticipated the process would be emotionally difficult, formal and fair – many had based their expectations on friends and family experiences, and also on television dramas and internet searches.

Some reported anxiety about the physical environment of the court and how they would be treated by judges and magistrates.

Researchers identified key factors behind users’ satisfaction: they were most likely to say they understood what was happening, with positive feedback also for experience and outcome.

In the survey, 60% of participants felt listened to by the courts system, 63% agreed the information they received was good enough, and 77% were kept well informed about what was happening while they were in court.

While three-quarters of users knew where to access information and guidance, 42% reported they did not need it.

Almost two-thirds of users said the system was open and accessible, while 78% spoke positively about their experience of speaking to HMCTS staff over the phone. Nine in every 20 people who attended a court or tribunal building felt treated fairly by staff.

Most people were able to take part with confidence, but reported they wanted the court ‘demystified’ with advance information on court layout and who would be present.

A spokesperson for HMCTS said: ‘We are pleased the majority of people rated their experience of courts and tribunals as good, but realise there is more to be done. An investment of £1bn is already being made to modernise our courts, and these findings will help ensure our services better meet the needs of everyone using them.’