The Magistrates' Court of Victoria (MCV) is the first level of the states’ court system. The court has original jurisdiction over summary offences and indictable offences heard summarily, as well as civil claims up to $100,000.
Recognised as a signatory of the International Framework for Court Excellence, the MCV has committed to improving the administration of justice and the quality of justice services provided to the public by designing services directly with the people most impacted by the intended changes.
This collaborative approach to design alongside individuals with lived experience has become an integral part of the court's strategic direction and so this project was to be viewed as an extension of that work.
Portable was commissioned to conduct research on how other jurisdictions across the globe had approached many of the challenges that the MCV was facing, with the goal of inspiring and influencing the court’s digital transformation and service delivery programs.
The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria were undertaking the development of a roadmap for designing and implementing new services and technologies based on expert insights and learnings from jurisdictions around the world.
The team at MCV specifically sought to understand how different justice institutions were approaching five priority areas, including:
- Engagement with First Nations people
- Digital disadvantage and exclusion
- Service provision to regional and remote communities
- Automation, mobile justice and self-service
- Designing services with users
The MCV partnered with Portable to identify industry-leading examples for each of these areas through a combination of desktop research and expert interviews.
Offering in-house industry expertise and direct access to a global network of partners in the justice sector across both academia and operational roles meant that the we could efficiently identify leading organisations who had faced similar challenges and effectively engage key contacts to gather invaluable insights which would empower MCV to make data-driven decisions when building their digital transformation roadmap and while planning for future services.
Combining these unique advantages with our expertise in co-design, the team proposed regularly engaging with stakeholders at MCV to collaborate on the synthesis of these insights throughout the project, enabling the research to quickly become more nuanced and pointed as the project progressed.
Our project began with a thorough literature review, which involved us absorbing official reports, court blogs, academic articles, and a range of other grey literature relating to the five research areas.
After this, we moved on to identifying the relevant stakeholders to engage with, which allowed us to gain a better understanding of the practical implications involved in introducing change to a court context, and the challenges (and surprises) that don’t get written about.
As we listened and learned from these stakeholders, we realised that some of our research directions needed to be adjusted and refined, and we worked with the MCV team through online working sessions to align on the changes that were needed. These working sessions provided us with an opportunity to share our findings, and to receive feedback and insights from the MCV team.
We were able to identify emerging themes and promising lines of inquiry, which we then pursued in greater depth.
Considering how to fill in the gaps:
Due to the pandemic, many court services around the world have revolutionised their processes virtually overnight, resulting in the abandonment of some old, inefficient ways of working in favour of more effective and efficient ones. However, many have not documented their learnings. To fill in the gaps, Portable engaged with a number of academics, advocates, and public sector consultants who have been “on the ground” closely monitoring these initiatives.
Additionally, embargos on conducting research within court settings often limit research efforts to a small-scale and limited scope. As a result, in order to build an accurate picture of reality, it was crucial that we engaged people who could speak anecdotally about the challenges they were facing within their jurisdictions and created the space so that they felt comfortable sharing.
Where possible we sought out operational staff working within the court institutions and others who could speak to the day-to-day realities of the innovative practices being introduced.
Considering the drivers of change:
The information and ideas that surfaced through our process were reflective of drivers for change within the global context. Pressures, challenges and opportunities presented by the Covid-19 pandemic were evident. The pandemic has forced us to rethink our approach to many aspects of life, including how court services are delivered.
The effort to increase trust between court users and the general public was also strongly visible. It was clear that for many jurisdictions, especially the United States, the public’s trust in the institutions was waning and it was crucial that courts commit themselves to rebuilding and maintaining that trust. Many stakeholders recognised that no one silver bullet was going to be able to do this. A multifaceted approach, which includes improving transparency, accountability, and effective communication is needed.
We also identified the pressure to provide efficient and effective service as a significant driver for change. Court users expect a high level of service and many court services are working hard to meet those expectations. This means that for many jurisdictions, a commitment to innovation and technology including significant public investment, has become a priority.
Focusing on the novel and ambitious:
We found that the depth of change agendas in different jurisdictions varied considerably, from more surface-level changes to ideas that go to the heart of how justice is served. The final report we produced for the MCV focussed on examples that felt more novel and ambitious and spoke to the full range of court-related change.
Our focus during the working sessions was on providing the MCV with tangible case studies from around the world. What we found was that a number of the initiatives were relevant to multiple research areas.
For instance, examples of remote support (that is, the provision of face-to-face digital support for court users) related to both how courts were adapting their services to address digital disadvantage and exclusion and also how courts were supporting regional and remote communities.
This meant that for our final report, we chose to focus on four intersecting aspects of court-related innovation:
- Nothing about them without them: The first chapter covered examples of working with the judiciary, staff, court users and the general public. It was reflective of an imperative to directly and actively involve stakeholders in the process of change.
- A stitch in time saves nine: The second chapter spoke about opportunities for efficiency, usually cited in relation to how people are prepared for court and the processes that run in the background to keep courts running smoothly. It also identified initiatives that specifically target backlogs and efficiency improvements.
- Creating the court of the future: The third chapter focuses on the opportunities to reinvent key elements of court experience, including advice and resolutions that have been developed from implementing change. This chapter also provides examples of some of the more novel permutations of a modern court.
- Better ways to deliver justice outcomes: The final chapter explored efforts to more fundamentally rethink justice systems and services, and evaluate what successful innovation looks like.
Our wide-ranging research meant we collated examples from over ten different countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom (noting the differences between England and Wales and the rest of the UK), Ireland, Singapore, India, Sweden, Malaysia, Guinea-Bissau and Brazil.
We also delved into initiatives that were being carried out in Australia and recognised some very innovative practices in jurisdictions outside Victoria. Conducting this research has provided the MCV with a greater understanding of the diversity of approaches to court innovation, and our interviews with stakeholders have enabled the MCV to get a sense of the types of challenges associated with each approach.
The desire of MCV to learn from what other jurisdictions are doing in this space signals a growing trend toward cross-jurisdictional collaboration and the recognition that sharing knowledge and expertise can lead to better justice outcomes for all.
It is our hope that this project will inspire other court services to take a similar approach to reform and engage not only court users in the design of justice services but also their peers in other jurisdictions.
Portable plans to share our key takeaways from this piece of work soon.
Melissa Martino, Executive Director, Magistrates' Court of Victoria:
"The Portable team’s professionalism and research were of high calibre. Additionally, the Portable team’s receptiveness to MCV’s input and willingness to develop alternate ways to showcase the research findings helped position this work for best presentation success."
Emily MacLoud, Senior Legal Designer, Portable:
"This was a dream project for me. I regularly keep my eye on what is happening around the world when it comes to improving court services, so having the opportunity to delve into this and speaking to some of the leaders in this space was a real highlight.
Working with the team to pinpoint what was going to be most helpful, assisted us immensely in ensuring that our findings were relevant, practicable, and valuable.
I’m looking forward to working with MCV again as it would be great to take some of these inspirational initiatives and make them a reality."
- Sarah Parker - Senior Producer
- Beth Hyland - Lead design strategist
- Emily MacLoud - Senior legal designer
- India Lock - Design Strategist