Headlines: May 28th, 2002

In the first major revamp of the Civil and Family Courts for 150 years,
hearing venues are set to rise from 234 to 275 and Business Centres are to
be set up to handle all back office administration. Changes that have
affected the courts since the 19th century include growth and movement in
population and the creation of new towns, more options for paying fees
other than cash and cheques, the need to contact the courts outside the
hours of 10 am to 4.30 pm and the advent of technology to support users,
judges and officials. The new business model responds to all these changes.

Primary hearing centres will be the principal venues for civil and family
hearings. They will be based mainly in existing county and combined court
centres in towns and cities across England and Wales. They will have high
quality facilities and support the use of in-court technology such as
video-conferencing, electronic presentation of evidence and digital audio

New electronic files, records, and diaries will replace paper files and
existing IT systems. The electronic files will be accessible from all
locations regardless of where the case is being heard. The case management
system supporting the electronic file will automate many of the processes
that currently require staff intervention. The electronic diary will be a
computerised record of all hearings and available appointments. Information
about court hearings will be available on the Internet.

Customers will also be able to complete straightforward transactions via
the Internet from their home or business computer or digital TV.
Practitioners will be able to file documents electronically from their
offices. Alternative payment methods to be introduced include credit and
debit cards and the processing of payments will be transferred to banks and
building societies.