Top Treasury official moving to head up HM Courts service

Susan Acland-Hood on the move as courts service presses ahead with digital shake-up

By Civil Service World

05 Oct 2016

One the Treasury's most senior officials, Susan Acland-Hood, is to take the reins as chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service next month, it has been announced.

Acland-Hood has been director of enterprise and growth at the Treasury since March 2015, overseeing a team of around 80 finance ministry officials working on areas including growth, infrastructure, business and exports. 

She joined the civil service in 1999, and has had stints at the Home Office, Downing Street and the Department for Education since then. In 2011 Acland-Hood was made a senior policy adviser to coalition government prime minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg. 

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The Ministry of Justice confirmed this week that the Treasury director had been picked for the top job at the courts service – the executive agency of the MoJ which oversees the administration of criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales – after an open competition.

"Susan is an extremely talented public servant, with valuable experience of both central and local government and of major reform programmes," said MoJ permanent secretary Richard Heaton in a statement.

"We are confident that she will lead HMCTS brilliantly, working with a strong HMCTS team and with colleagues across the Ministry of Justice to bring about the successful delivery of our programme of reform. 

"Susan shares our commitment to making radical improvements in how we make justice available to citizens, as well as our appreciation of everyone who works in HMCTS and the importance of what they do."

Top of the agenda for the new HMCTS chief will be implementing a wide-ranging programme of digital reforms at the courts agency, which has been asked to increase income from fees while further cutting its running costs.

HMCTS secured £700m in new funding at last year's government-wide Spending Review, with the agency promising to "fundamentally transform the way we operate, developing a service that meets the expectations of citizens in a digital age". 

Digital reform plans trialled so far include allowing victims and witnesses to pre-record cross-examinations, and allowing defendants in less serious cases to enter pleas and pay fines online.

Like many areas of government, HMCTS has seen a fall in headcount in recent years, and plans to continue to cut staff over the course of the current parliament. 

Approximately 15,000 full time staff now work for HMCTS, a drop of more than 2,000 on 2012-13 levels. 

The organisation has meanwhile seen a rise in its use of agency and contract staff over that period, with its latest annual report saying it has also "deliberately" recruited staff on a temporary basis "to minimise the risk of redundancy on our existing workforce, and to minimise long term redundancy costs incurred by employing staff now who we know we cannot offer a long term role to".

Commenting on her appointment, Acland-Hood said there were "few things more important than the rule of law, and justice well-administered".

She added: "We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a transformed justice system that is faster, better, and more accessible to all. 

"I have already been impressed by the dedication and commitment of HMCTS’s excellent staff, and I look forward very much to working alongside them to add technology to our powerful and respected traditions, and give us the best justice system in the world."

Acland-Hood succeeds interim HMCTS chief Kevin Sadler, who Heaton also paid tribute to in his statement.

"He has combined deep knowledge of the justice system, a passion for its improvement, and an ability to get things done," said the MoJ perm sec. 

"Under his leadership, the organisation has started to make reform a reality. He has also made an excellent contribution as a valued colleague on the Ministry of Justice’s executive committee."

The new HMCTS boss will start work on November 21."

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