Justice.gov.uk is on borrowed time. The intention is to move all information on that site and many other justice system websites to GOV.UK. Justice.gov.uk and those other websites will ultimately disappear. Much has moved already.

As such, it is important to get to grips with GOV.UK. This article describes its structure and features with reference to the justice information and services that are or will soon be available there.

Note that information and features are constantly being added to GOV.UK.

Departments and policy

The “corporate” information about government departments, agencies and other public bodies is published in the Departments and Policy area of GOV.UK. By corporate information is meant information about policies, activities, consultations, white papers etc: this is who we are, what we do, where we are and where we are going.

All ministerial government departments have moved their corporate websites to GOV.UK. The Ministry of Justice’s new home is at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice (accessible also using www.gov.uk/moj).

Around half of non-ministerial departments, agencies and other public bodies will also be moving their websites to GOV.UK. You can browse the full list of public organisations at www.gov.uk/government/organisations.

MoJ works with 39 agencies and public bodies and most of these will move their websites to GOV.UK as well. The National Archives (a non-ministerial department) will maintain a separate website. Of MoJ’s executive agencies, moved already are Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, HM Prison Service and National Offender Management Service, and moving are HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Legal Aid Agency and Office of the Public Guardian.

The plan is to complete the transition of their content to GOV.UK and decommission the Justice.co.uk website by the end of 2014.

The largest of MoJ’s agencies is HM Courts and Tribunals Service; its corporate website has yet to move to GOV.UK.

Public bodies that have not moved yet or will maintain a separate website nevertheless also have a “home” page on GOV.UK which can be accessed via the Organisations page. HMCTS is at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service.

You can follow department and agency activity on GOV.UK using the Atom (RSS) feed which is provided as standard for every organisation, whether or not they have moved their website. MoJ’s is at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice.atom.

Services and information

The “front page” of GOV.UK is the public-facing Services and Information section which provides pages of guidance and more detailed further information which can be browsed by topic or searched. Whilst most of the guidance is written for the public at large, increasingly, specialist information designed for professionals is being added.

Keyed in to the guidance pages is a range of digital services, enabling common transactions with government be done online. Pre-existing services are available but are being redesigned according to the Digital by Default Service Standard.

The unit responsible for developing the MoJ content and services is the MoJ Digital Services team. You can follow their progress via their blog.

Following is the status of MoJ’s main information and service developments for GOV.UK as at July 2014.

Guidance and information

MOJ Digital Services, working with the Government Digital Service (GDS) and HMCTS, are producing new court and tribunal guidance for GOV.UK, which will include the specialist information for professionals which is currently on the Justice site. The new articles should all be complete and live by the end of 2014.

Further refinements are being made in response to customer feedback to the court finder which was launched in 2013.

Work is proceeding on new tribunals decisions databases, following the successful launch of the immigration and asylum tribunal appeal decisions in 2013.

GDS is helping MoJ Digital Services to develop a new web format for the procedure rules, which is still in its early stages.

Services

The lasting power of attorney tool, developed with the Office of the Public Guardian and GDS, was the first government “exemplar” service to pass the Digital Service Standard in May 2014, and is now fully live.

Improvements are being made to other MoJ digital services, including:

  • employment tribunal claims;
  • civil claims: first accelerated possession cases; the existing money claim online and possession claim online services are still in service but are being redeveloped;
  • prison visits booking, currently being tested in selected prisons;
  • traffic offences, with an initial pilot taking place in Manchester; and
  • a new civil legal advice tool.

The importance of search

With all this movement of information and services from justice.gov.uk, HMCTS and other agency websites incrementally to GOV.UK, it can be confusing to navigate or search any of these sites individually. Google is still your best friend here. The GOV.UK site is well optimised so that if particular guidance, information or services are on GOV.UK, that will top the results, followed by related and often redundant pages from the pre-existing government sites.

Try the following Google search for employment tribunal claim for example. You’ll note that the employment tribunal guidance on GOV.UK ranks above that on justice.gov.uk. In time the latter will drop off the results entirely.

Conclusion

There has been much criticism of the GOV.UK site which imposes an unfamiliar uniformity and simple design on the former disparate yet familiar websites which did the job quite nicely and colourfully, thank you. Naturally, we are at a point in the transition where the unfamiliarity and incompleteness is unsettling. However, once the move is complete, next year I think we will see that the new site is indeed delivering on its promise – Simpler, Clearer, Faster – even for lawyers!

Nick Holmes is joint editor of the Newsletter.

Email nickholmes@infolaw.co.uk. Twitter @nickholmes.

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