Ace! Genius! And other superlatives.

I’m in positive frame of mind, after almost a week’s recuperation on a beach somewhere not near you. In fact I’m still here, under a beating sun pondering the meaning of life and a strawberry daquiri.

So it is in this new refreshed, positive thinking frame of mind (I’m thinking of applying for the role of Ernie Ryder’s sidekick so optimistic am I feeling) that I bring a report of a new initiative from The Ministry of Information Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, which I didn’t read last night when I snuck a peak at my emails whilst on hol. My inbox reads:

Please find attached guidance issued by HMCTS Civil and Family Operations Branch on the use of e-mail in the Civil and Family Courts. Separate guidance covers e-mail between the Court and Cafcass/Local Authorities.

Many e-mails received by the Family Court contain material which would attract the “Restricted” marking, The definition of that marking is:

“The compromise of this information could …cause substantial distress to individuals…”

In view of this the Court will be unable to accept or send e-mails sent through a non-secure method and therefore I would encourage you to sign up to the Criminal Justice Secure Mail System  (CJSM) as a matter of urgency. Details of the procedure are contained in the attached guidance.

Recently this office has been concerned about the size of documents e-mailed to this court, often over 100 pages. This guidance specifies that the total size of witness statements must not exceed 10 pages. Unless the e-mail is in respect of a hearing on the next working day we would encourage you to post documents to the court. Statements and reports are processed received in the post are processed on the day of receipt.

This guidance also clarifies that the Court will not accept an e-mail for any process for which a fee is payable.

The guidance attached is here: hmcts guidance – email in civil and family courts. In fact, the guidance that I have linked to (and which was attached to the email received) is guidance for court staff which tells us that non-compliant emails will be deleted. It links to the general guidance on the Justice website here which, contrary to the above, tends to suggest that CJSM is recommended rather than optional AND which lists as documents that can be e-filed with the court as “any document which the court has specifically directed to be filed by e mail“. But as Bobby McFerrin said “don’ worry be happy”. Let’s pass over those apparent inconsistencies – it’s all good.

Now, firstly let me say that I have long pondered the advisability of the amount of highly sensitive data being pinged backwards and forwards from lawyers to courts. I’m a little bit paranoid about data protection, hence the 10 digit alphanumeric password on my iphone that only my 2 year old can crack (it takes me 3 attempts on average). There is a whole lot of e-filing going on these days, as HMCTS don’t “do” much in the way of typing orders in the brave new world, and consequently there is a whole lot of tedious circulating of drafts and redrafts between lawyers who variously use secure email, semi-secure email or plain old hotmail – the data protection and confidentiality issues of this way of working are quite significant (and note that data protection and confidentiality issues are not one and the same). Round these parts we have received a number of different missives giving entirely different instructions on how to email documents to courts, some insisting on anonymity, others insisting on a name and a hearing date being in the subject header. Which have not entirely made things easier, since most of us spend 90% of our time sending anonymised emails to the courts that want names, dates and case numbers and all the stuff that must not be referred to in an email on pain of death to the ones that don’t want it (I’m pleased to note though that the guidance on the justice website appears to make the position clear – initials only please).

And of course in the current climate more and more solicitors have twigged that they can pass the print-cost buck down the chain not just by delivering counsel’s papers and brief at 4.30pm on a Friday in the form of seven consecutive emails each attaching a pdf of 50 pages in length, but also by filing documents by email (along with the self represented who are also known to be very fond indeed of email, often sent at 11.58pm).

Yes, ladies and gentlebugs, there is a whole lot of e-filing a goin; on. And the hordes of self represented with their total failure both to own industrial capacity photocopiers or to absorb the mammoth family procedure rules AND their inability to intuit the contents of HMCTS guidance issued from time to time but in no way drawn to their attention – well they will be e’filin’ like hotdiggity too.

Which is why I am *so* pleased that HMCTS have really thought through their reaction to these new developments and produced an entirely workable way forward for all our mutual benefit. *Cough*

We now all have to use the CJS secure email (unless we are one of the the great unwashed self represented). That’s the one that I’ve been locked out of for months because its so frickin’ secure. You need  sharks with lasers and sticks of acme dynamite to get into it. And I’m sure that the whole system won’t be rendered pointless / unworkable when there is a litigant in person using hotmail in the mix – you know, when you have to send a draft email to your opponent(s), (one of) who(m) is a litigant in person (ok, that may not be a matter for HMCTS but we do still have to somehow Cc our opponents into emails sent to the court as a matter of professional etiquette). And I have no fear that there will be any added inconvenience or delay engendered by us not being able to respond in the usual way in our 10 minute lunch break to half a dozen emails about the precise wording of the recitals and paragraph 6 c) of the order or to finally send that order in for e-filing now approval has been received from opponents – because we can’t access the supersecurelockedvault CJSM system on our apple device of choice.

And anyone who suggests that the author of this guidance maybe *forgot* that many self represented will be quite disadvantaged / inconvenienced by the limitations on file size / length of witness statement / guidance they will never know about until they’ve breached it – well they’re just nay sayers. Access to justice implications? Poppycock. More pain in the arse goodness for lawyers? Total rot.

Ow. My sarcasm mask has just cracked. And it’s left a tan mark.


5 thoughts on “Ace! Genius! And other superlatives.

  1. so court counters are closed except for 2 hrs per day and emails are only accepted via this secure site?

    • Well as I read it emails from legal professionals will only be accepted via this secure email, and since I have been entirely unable to access it I cannot tell if I would be able to Cc an insecure litigant in person an email also sent to the court via secure mail. And yes, counter hours are down, although I think its not quite as bad as 2 hrs p/d. The internal operational guidance I referenced is rather unclear as to whether ANY non-secure mail will be deleted or only that from legal professionals (which rather begs the question why legal professionals should be subject to more onerous requirements than litigants). The public facing guidance on the justice website does not suggest secure mail is required so one assumes it is not. It is odd that the public facing guidance does not put legal professionals on notice that they will be treated differently – it is only apparent from the operational guidance which legal professionals have rather oddly been Cc’d into.
      Ho hum.

      • This now applies to self-represented litigants (LiPs as they have reverted to being) as well. The courts are simply deleting emails sent by LiPs saying they’re not from a secure source, but not telling the people they exists to serve what constitutes a secure email source. One lady I spoke to on one of these courts’ help line told me to google secure email to find out!

  2. […] just outcomes whilst minimising delay. Less good was the communication about secure email, which I blogged about before and which has still not resulted in any workable system and has been largely ignored because its […]

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