Part 4: Engaging with affected people and organisations

Ministry of Justice: Modernising court services.

In this Part, we discuss:

Summary of our findings

Engaging with people and organisations affected by the three projects was variable. We saw some effective engagement planning that included identifying affected people and organisations, and planning to engage with them. There was also some effective consultation and communication by the Ministry with people and organisations. This supported a smooth implementation of the projects.

In other instances, not enough consultation and communication with people and organisations contributed to a range of difficulties during and after implementation of a project. Collaboration between organisations was limited, which is likely to have affected the delivery of service improvements. It is also likely to have risked people and organisations losing confidence in new services and the Ministry.

Why engaging with people and organisations is important

We expected the Ministry to have identified the people and organisations likely to be affected by the implementation of the three projects.

We also expected the Ministry to reach a common understanding of each project's objectives and intended improvements with these people and organisations. Keeping people informed of the progress of a project and any important decisions is important for making the intended improvements.

Effective engagement supported implementation of projects

For centralising dealing with applications to dispute a fine, the Ministry engaged well with the affected organisations. The Ministry identified and put in place engagement plans at the start of the project and during preparation for its implementation. This led to some good engagement with these organisations, which contributed to a smooth implementation of the project.

At the start of the project, the Ministry prepared detailed plans for engaging with affected organisations. The plans included who was responsible for communicating with the organisations and when it should be done. For example, the Ministry identified Wellington City Council, the Police, and the New Zealand Transport Agency as three organisations that it needed to engage with.

This planning led to the Ministry engaging well with a range of organisations. This included:

  • consulting with the Chief District Court Research Council on whether judges needed training and concluding that training was not needed; and
  • establishing relationships and working with affected organisations. This supported a request from the Ministry of Transport, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and the Police to change the implementation date from May 2012 to August 2012.

Some prosecuting agencies told us that effective engagement from the Ministry resulted in a smooth transition. For example, one prosecuting agency told us that it attended a half-day seminar in Wellington where the Ministry explained how centralising dealing with applications to dispute a fine worked and how it would affect them. The prosecuting agency believed that the project successfully addressed the existing problems.

A lack of engagement contributed to difficulties

For civil claims and AVL, the Ministry did not engage enough with the judiciary or organisations affected by the changes to processes. This contributed to a range of issues during and after implementation.

At the start of the projects, the Ministry did not plan to engage with the judiciary, and we found no evidence of it consulting with them. Given the importance of preserving the function of the judiciary when making changes to how courts operate, we expected the Ministry to have consulted with them about the planned changes.

For example, the lack of consultation contributed to the judiciary reviewing the new process for dealing with civil claims shortly after it was centralised. This review led to a clarification of some of the rules that govern quasi-judicial decision-making.

Deputy registrars are now expected to refer a claim to the relevant District Court judge if they are unsure about what judgment should be made. In our view, the need to review the new process and provide some clarification could have been avoided if the Ministry had consulted more with the judiciary earlier in the project.

For civil claims, the Ministry identified in its business case that the District Courts would be affected by changes to the process. Although we found no evidence of the Ministry planning to engage with District Court staff, some engagement occurred. For example, some District Court staff participated in weekly teleconference project meetings, attended a series of workshops organised by the Ministry, and received consultation documents for comment.

To prepare for implementing the project, the Ministry outlined the new process in its internal magazine, Straight Up, which it sent to all District Courts. This included setting out what District Court staff's involvement would be once civil claims were dealt with centrally.

The Ministry did not identify or plan to engage with people or organisations likely to be affected by centralising dealing with civil claims. For example, the Ministry did not identify major users of the process, such as finance and credit companies or the Inland Revenue Department, as organisations to engage with.

During the projects, the lack of planning contributed to the Ministry not engaging enough with affected people and organisations on the progress of centralising dealing with civil claims and on important decisions. For example, the Ministry's engagement with organisations was largely by writing to them, and it was not clear which organisations or people the Ministry had shared this information with.

As a result, the Ministry would not have been able to develop an understanding of the potential effect of the changes to affected organisations' business processes and how effective these changes were likely to be in improving court services.

This contributed to some difficulties during and after implementation of the project, which have undermined the extent to which the intended improvements have been achieved.

For example, we were told that, because some organisations did not understand the new requirements, they had not been able to align their business processes for dealing with civil claims. This lack of alignment contributed to a high rate of claim forms being rejected and to organisations needing to rework these claims. Six months after the project was implemented, the Ministry was helping the affected organisations prepare the required templates for the new process.

Collaboration between organisations has been limited

Collaboration between important people and organisations is important for effectively addressing complex problems that cannot be solved by a single organisation. People and organisations need to work together to develop a shared vision and understanding of what the justice sector is trying to achieve.

Collaboration includes reaching early agreement on intended improvements, who is likely to benefit from the intended improvements, and the best approach for addressing issues that need people or organisations to work together.

The business case for AVL stated that the Ministry and Corrections needed to share information during the project. Sharing information between the two organisations was important because the project involved developing an AVL network between the courts and Corrections facilities. Good technology and an alignment of business processes was needed to achieve the intended improvements.

During the project, information was not adequately shared between the Ministry and Corrections. For example, business processes were not developed to ensure that the two organisations were aware when standard system software tests were carried out. The lack of agreed process created the risk that seemingly small changes to systems software made by either organisation could cause system misalignment and lead to a range of problems for operating the AVL network.

We also expected the Ministry to lead collaboration with lawyers and other justice sector organisations affected by implementing AVL. We expected this collaboration to include information sharing, planning to align business processes, and, as appropriate, a shared reporting framework.

The Ministry's collaboration with justice sector organisations and lawyers has been limited. This has contributed to a lack of alignment of business processes throughout the justice sector, which is likely to have prevented the project making all the intended improvements.

We were told that most operating issues since the implementation of AVL were caused by a lack of alignment of business processes and inadequate communication between the Ministry and Corrections. For example, people in custody sometimes appeared in District Court in person when they were supposed to have used AVL. There have also been instances where the wrong person in custody appeared before a judge using AVL.

There has been a range of local initiatives to improve the use of AVL and get more alignment of business processes between justice sector organisations. For example, the Auckland Optimisation project involved the Ministry working closely with Corrections and the Police to identify challenges that were preventing increased use of AVL in Auckland. We were told more recently that the Ministry has started to engage with some lawyers and members of the judiciary in Auckland.

The Auckland Optimisation project has been trialling three important changes to the processes for using AVL. These are:

  • better scheduling of AVL appearances by increasing the alignment of business processes between the courts and Corrections in Auckland, which included increasing communication between courts and Corrections facilities from once a day to several times a day;
  • exploring the use of instant messaging between the courtroom and the Corrections facility to improve communication when using AVL; and
  • Corrections organising the bookings for instruction suites through a central phone number. This was expected to improve the use of instruction suites by lawyers and lead to more court hearings proceeding as planned.

Although this is likely to bring improvements for District Courts and related Corrections facilities, these improvements are likely to be limited to Auckland. We discuss the importance of a more comprehensive view of feedback about services in Part 6.