Blazing into the future: vision for change at the Magistrates’ Court

Chief Magistrate Justice Lisa Hannan outlined the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria’s (MCV) rapid digital uptake, and new Service Centre, and the multiple benefits for both court and community, as her main thrust at Law Week.

Clare Kennedy
Tuesday, August 22, 2023

In March 2022 the Magistrates' Court launched its Service Centre, an offsite facility designed to respond to digital enquiries and support administrative servicing from both the public and justice system stakeholders. The data shows it’s having a profound impact on court efficiency.

In June of this year, MCV won the Citizen-centred Service Design (in the Public Sector) Award from the Institute of Public Administration Australia against a competitive field. The award recognises the MCV Service Centre as “an exemplar of innovation, demonstrable impact and inspirational delivery for the public sector and the Victorian community.”

‘It frees up the court’s registry staff to focus on complex matter readiness and provide greater in-person and judicial support,’ says Richard Hodge, Director of Innovation and Service Experience at MCV.

The Court’s contact service transformation can be traced back to recommendations resulting from the 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence, which required the Court to introduce a central contact centre for intervention order (IVO) enquiries. This IVO service has provided a significant central support service for family violence matters, responding to over 700,000 enquiries since commencement in 2018.

Now the Service Centre’s coverage has been expanded to support the court’s criminal and civil jurisdictions, as well as administrative support services.

‘In 17 months of operation to the end of July 2023, the Service Centre's criminal and civil jurisdiction team has responded to a further 173,133 enquiries (phone calls, emails and webchats), whilst growing to support 31 courts with enquiries across the state,’ says Mr Hodge.

‘This equates to about 17,000 hours of time just resulting from our criminal and civil service returned to local court staff who may otherwise have been dealing with simple enquiries such as, “Where is the court?” or “Where do I go when I get to court,” Mr Hodge explains.

What do the changes mean in practice? ‘In the past people phoning the MCV with a question about their matter may result in long delays as court staff juggled phone calls alongside large volumes of people seeking assistance in person,’ Mr Hodge explains.

Now, with the Service Centre in operation, a member of the public calling the court phone number, will get through to court staff in an average of 13 seconds. While a webchat enquiry, available on the home page of the court website, also affords immediate access to court staff.

The MCV envisages the Service Centre playing an increasingly important role in core operations, providing and strengthening pre-court engagement with justice system organisations, and providing timely access to information, as well as referrals to legal and other support services.

‘It’s a person-centred approach, says Mr Hodge. It’s ultimately about making a person’s experience in preparing for court more satisfactory, through them being better informed and prepared, and by providing that, there are also benefits for court operations.

In line with this ambition, MCV has been working with justice system stakeholders recently to expand the Service Centre’s referral capacity: to Legal Aid Victoria, Community Legal Centres, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services, Victorian Law Institute and other support services websites.

Another key gateway to legal assistance and other support services for Victorians is achieved via outbound SMS links sent directly to court users when engaging with court staff through the webchat or via the phone service.

Another benefit of the Service Centre is being able to provide consistent, timely responses to public queries. This has been enhanced with the introduction of a Knowledge Management System (KMS), an online repository of over 700 ‘best practice enquiry responses, initially developed to support central Service Centre staff. Access to the KMS has recently been expanded to all operational staff state-wide, to support the provision of timely and consistent procedural advice to public and professional court users, regardless of which court is being attended.

You can appreciate the importance of the system when you consider that MCV operates out of 51 court venues, with an estimated over 1.4M digital enquiry contacts alone, per year.

Mr Hodge notes that there are many opportunities to take the service further. ‘The Service Centre has the potential to expand to an estimated 1.5M enquiries over the next four years, whilst supporting a broad range of court services, and interconnecting the court system with referrals to other system service providers.’

Potential flow-on access to justice benefits abound, including helping more and more Victorians to navigate the justice system.

(L-R) Melissa Martino Executive Director, People and Innovation, Simon Hollingsworth, MCV CEO, Chief Magistrate Justice Lisa Hannan – holding the IPAA award, Richard Hodge, Director of Innovation and Service Experience, Emily Holland, Senior Manager, Innovation and Service experience.
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