Supporting access to justice and empowering people, using a user centric design approach

The Courts Service Modernisation Programme is about re-designing our services to meet user needs, leading with a digital first approach. Our user-centric and digital first goals aim to provide users with simpler and more consistent services.

Over the past two years, we have engaged extensively with users. Their feedback has given us invaluable insights and informed our thinking across many projects. We are starting to see the results of this approach, so here we share some of the highlights of the progress we have made.

Improving how we provide information

Working in collaboration with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) we are rolling out a programme of plain language training across the organisation. Using this training, and supporting key actions from the Family Justice Strategy, we have developed new online family law plain language information. This enables court users to access easy-to-understand information about family law matters. The content is written in plain language and helps users to understand options and matters they need to consider. In addition to sign-posting relevant advice and services, step-by-step guides on making applications to court are provided.

The newly rewritten information is also a valuable resource for Courts Service colleagues, and they frequently direct users to the information. Short videos were produced to highlight the key information available, an approach that was so successful that a version of the video has also been produced for professionals working in family law.
Since going live at the end of March 2023, the new information had been accessed by over 49,000 users by June 2023. The feedback has been positive and confirms we are meeting our goal for the information to be user-friendly and highly informative.

We are currently working on modernising and simplifying some District Court family law application forms, starting with guardianship. The aim is not just to reduce the number of forms but to also introduce forms which are user-friendly, and easy to understand and fill out, making them accessible and suitable for both paper and digital applications. We hope to expand this approach to other areas including civil debt forms.

To increase awareness and promotion of alternative dispute resolution processes, we have produced an animated video explaining benefits of mediation, what is involved in the mediation process, and how to access the support/service. An online training event on understanding mediation, run in collaboration with the Legal Aid Board, was attended by almost 100 Courts Service colleagues. Step-by-step guides have been developed which include a first step that outlines the benefits of mediation and signposting to services.

“The information available was amazing for my situation”
– Family law applicant

“It is so user friendly. It somehow manages to make it seem approachable whilst still containing such a wide range of information within it”
– Courts Service staff member

Courts Service staff members demonstrated our VR court experience recently at the Ploughing Championships in County Laois. Pictured here with Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD.

Improving user experience

To support court users, and to provide them with improved information across a range of channels, we launched our 360°Virtual Tours earlier this year. The tours were developed to allow people to experience the look and feel of the courts in advance of attending court. This can reduce anxiety for many court visitors. The virtual tours demonstrate what to expect both outside and inside the building. By the time a person arrives in court they are better prepared to engage in the process. We developed the virtual tours as a direct response to user feedback and the Public Service Innovation Fund 2022 funded their development.

Another first for the Courts Service was the introduction of our virtual reality headset experience at the Ploughing Championships in September 2023. Our ‘Who’s who in the courtroom?’ virtual reality experience is a unique opportunity for victims/witnesses to experience a real courtroom environment before their day in court and to learn about the various people who will be in the court. A number of Ministers dropped by to try the VR out, including Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD.

We shared this highly engaging experience for the second time at our Culture Night event in the Four Courts. Throughout this eventful week for Courts Service awareness, more than 400 people experienced our VR headset. We are also planning for our VR experience to go on tour during Public Service Transformation Week in October 2023.

Improving our engagement

A key element to redesigning our services to meet user needs, is engagement with user groups and other stakeholders. Key groups have been established such as the Judicial Modernisation Engagement Group, Legal Practitioner Engagement Group, and the Civic Society Forum, that meet regularly to allow improved communication, sharing of information, and collaboration. An Access to Justice group has been formed for the purpose of engagement on civil topics.

“I found the Civic Society Forum a very interesting and useful space where Courts Service staff working on various aspects of the Family Justice Strategy and other improvements made themselves available to us victim support NGOs to answer detailed questions and listen to any new concerns or queries. It felt truly collaborative to me”
– member of Safe Ireland.

We recently had the pleasure of sharing our information stand with some members of the Civic Society Forum at the National Ploughing Championships. It was a great opportunity to work with them and share information.

The Courts Service will continue to introduce digitally enabled services, make evidence-based decisions to transform how we interact with our users, and streamline ways of working. In doing so, we are transforming day-to-day operations across the Courts Service, working with our users to improve their experience and ultimately providing Ireland with a modern, high performing courts system.

For more information on the Courts Service visit www.courts.ie


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