Document sets out bold plan for modern courts and tribunals system

Date published: 15 March 2021

A document setting out a vision for a modern, innovative, collaborative and responsive 21st Century courts and tribunals system was launched today.

Picture of Justice Minister Naomi Long

‘Modernising the Courts and Tribunals in Northern Ireland’, which has been approved by the Justice Minster Naomi Long, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service’s Director Anthony Harbinson, outlines how technology will be used to transform the way citizens access court and tribunal services, making them less complex, more efficient and more accessible.

Welcoming the launch of the vision document, Minister Long said: “The Modernisation Vision is an exciting plan for our courts and tribunals, ensuring they are able to respond to evolving public expectations of our justice system.

“The rationale for modernising courts and tribunals is compelling. Various high level reviews, including the Access to Justice Reviews; Reviews of Civil and Family Justice; and the Gillen Review into the law and procedures in serious sexual offences, have identified how the system must change to ensure our services deliver what people expect. The modernisation programme will support the implementation of agreed priority recommendations from these reviews.”

 “We will collectively embrace technology to transform the way in which citizens access court and tribunal services; ensure that court and tribunal buildings are fit for purpose and can support physical, virtual and hybrid services and; we will modernise and upgrade the justice system so that it works for everyone - for judges and legal professionals, witnesses, litigants, defendants, vulnerable victims of crime and the staff who will provide the necessary administrative support.”

The Vision Statement commits the NICTS modernisation programme to:

  • the redesign and optimisation of service delivery models to provide more effective services;
  • the improvement of access to justice through the further adoption of digital and other online service delivery channels;
  • the delivery of a reconfigured and modernised physical courts and tribunals estate to support new ways of working;
  • the achievement of sustainable financial operating environment for courts and tribunals services, the justice system and the wider public sector; and
  • support for staff, judiciary and key stakeholders working in a changing environment.

The document also outlines plans for:

  • A Digital Strategy setting out how courts and tribunals services will be delivered in the future, moving from cases heard in a physical environment to those that can also be conducted in hybrid and virtual environment, enabled by digital solutions and new ways of working.
  • More citizen focused courts and tribunals services that use simple, everyday language for those accessing them, starting with a new probate online portal in the coming months.
  • A drive to improve the time taken for cases dealt with by the courts - deploying technology for the sharing of evidence in the courtroom, electronic case bundles, digital case management systems, and the provision of high quality and timely case management data, the use of alternative and online dispute resolution services for civil disputes and mediation services. .
  • The development of online solutions removing the need for citizens to come to court and tribunal buildings at their own expense to pay fines, fees, lodge claims or applications or to make enquiries. The programme will also deploy online channels to enable parties to initiate, progress and track proceedings online.
  • Enhanced physical and digital support facilities for victims of crime and vulnerable witnesses, including the further development of remote evidence centres.
  • An Estates Strategy and Strategic Asset Management Plan which will inform how best to target investment to deliver a more consistent standard of accommodation for courts and tribunals, to include as a priority, a major capital project to deliver modern and flexible accommodation in the North West.

Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service Director Anthony Harbinson said: “Court users expect the delivery of justice to move with the times and not be bound by tradition and processes heavily reliant on paper. There is scope too to improve how the justice system supports all people coming into contact with the courts and tribunals.

“Equally, much of the court and tribunal estate is no longer fit for purpose. Many of the buildings are old and some, even with investment, would not meet the standards that people have a right to expect. The current estate lacks the flexibility and technological capacity required of a modern justice system.

“This vision statement identifies how we will work collectively in the years ahead with other justice partners, the Department of Justice and our independent judiciary to deliver fundamental change across our courts and tribunals.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan added: “This is a long-term programme of work which will transform how court and tribunal services are delivered in this jurisdiction. We will build on the solid foundations which have already been put in place as we have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and adapt to new and innovative ways of working in the digital age.”


Notes to editors: 


  1. A copy of the Vision Statement is available on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service publication section of this website.
  2. If you would like more information on the NICTS Modernisation Programme or to contribute any ideas please contact the Modernisation Team at:
  3. Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office via email at:
  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.

Share this page

Back to top