HMCTS modernises with cloud migration

07 December 2023

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is responsible for the administration of criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales and for non-devolved tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It administers the work of magistrates’ courts and the County Court, Family Court, Crown Court, and Royal Courts of Justice, employing around 17,000 staff and operate from locations in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

HMCTS is an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, which follows the Ministry of Justice’s strategic vision for reform, to create a more effective, less costly, and more responsive justice system.

“We’re building a modern system for administering justice which will benefit everyone who uses it. By designing systems around the public who need and use our services, we can create a more effective system for them and generate efficiencies for the taxpayer,” said HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

Citizens, judges, witnesses, and victims were often finding the justice system confusing, inefficient, and difficult to navigate. Accordingly, the Ministry of Justice and the senior judiciary, HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) launched a £1 billion reform programme to address outdated administrative processes supporting the justice system.

The program has been phased, with initial improvements to infrastructure and basic services followed by a wider range of online and ‘enabling’ services, to replace paper-based or antiquated digital systems. HMCTS planned to expand on these initial phases to build a complete end-to-end experience for its users. A crucial aspect of these reforms was to design and build common capabilities, the foundational building blocks that allow new services to be deployed rapidly. Networking and security was one of these key elements.

Connecting legacy infrastructure

To deliver the latest phase of technology reforms, HMCTS needed to connect its legacy infrastructure to Azure, to support the deployment of Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), delivering considerable cost savings and improvements.

As a cloud-built solution, WVD would give HMCTS the flexibility to adapt working practices on- demand, something that would not only improve operational efficiency in general but would prove crucial in a post-COVID-19 working world. Connecting the Azure tenancy back to physical sites with a traditional telco provider could have taken up to 12 months to provision, incurring massive costs.

In addition, HMCTS needed connectivity to Google Cloud Platform to upgrade its ‘virtual stenographer’ solution. This resource securely stores and optimises court audio recordings, making them available to authorised staff and administrators quickly and easily. Due to the sensitive nature of this data, it was crucial to maintain consistent security policy across the network.

Further to these two specific needs, the networking solution needed to be intelligent, flexible, and resilient enough to deliver on potential future requirements. It was imperative that the solution supported connections to multiple cloud environments and legacy infrastructures, with the scope to rapidly change the network landscape, as the reform programme gathered pace.

Securing traffic flows

While work had already begun to build new services in Azure, HMCTS engaged with Cloud Gateway and found that there were teething problems in establishing secure traffic flows between the new front end and legacy back end.

Cloud Gateway quickly worked to understand the networking requirements before creating a hybrid cloud connectivity platform instance, PRISM. With an existing presence in ARK government data centres, the first task for Cloud Gateway was to link the new PRISM instance with HMCTS’s environment on campus, and then to the Azure tenancy. As PRISM is a cloud-native solution, with an established ARK presence, this process took only a matter of minutes.

Following a series of tests, the Cloud Gateway platform evolved and grew alongside the HMCTS reform programme in the following months. Additional connections were made to AWS, the Public Services Network (PSN) and to third party data centre providers. Thanks to the close working relationship between HMCTS and Cloud Gateway, and the responsive nature of the PRISM platform, provisioning times were reduced from 90 days to 90 minutes, and in some cases even faster.

All traffic crossing the platform is sanitised by Cloud Gateway’s secure enforcement core, regardless of its source. Whether from a Ministry of Justice cloud environment, a physical site belonging to another government agency, or a remote user using the internet at home, the platform imposes consistent security policy across the ecosystem. PRISM is both PSN accredited and NCSC compliant, and Cloud Gateway itself meets ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials PLUS credentials.

Eliminating costly IT processes

With Cloud Gateway eliminating connectivity issues that had begun to plague the project, HMCTS can now focus on building citizen facing applications, in multiple cloud environments, safe in the knowledge that there are established secure links to legacy systems. Creative reforms can now be deployed in a fraction of the time, leveraging a full ecosystem of cloud service providers, to boost both efficiency and value for the citizens that rely on them.

HMCTS has been able to move, or in some cases eliminate, costly IT processes, reducing the amount of taxpayer money spent on maintaining these old systems. When the time is right, remaining back end functions can also be migrated to cloud if required, ultimately delivering on the promises made in the HMCTS reform programme, to completely modernise the administration of justice.

Most importantly, the ability to adapt and change has made it easier to get services into the hands of citizens faster than ever before, without compromising on security, or the safeguarding of sensitive data. HMCTS reforms will allow users to resolve civil and criminal court proceedings online, supported by digital tools. Through use of these new innovative applications, unnecessary court dates can be reduced, processes can be streamlined, and the ultimate cost to the taxpayer can be brought down.
“Our vision for reform is to modernise and upgrade the justice system so that it works better for everyone, from judges and legal professionals, to witnesses, litigants, and the vulnerable victims of crime,” reported HM Courts & Tribunals Service.