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CEO Natalie Ceeney to quit the Courts Service

Courts and Tribunal Service CEO Natalie Ceeney’s sudden departure raises questions on the future of digital courts

Natalie Ceeney, CEO of the Court Service, unexpectedly quit on 5 May 2016, after just more than a year in the job. 

Ceeney was tasked with leading the drive to take the court service online by 2020. Her sudden departure has generated some muted glee among legal professionals. 

Ceeney, who formerly worked at HSBC, had only been in post 16 months. On 14 April 2016, she announced that she was taking on the role of civil service health and well-being champion, suggesting her sights were set elsewhere. 

This “digital courts” programme is the brainchild of Brian Leveson, the Court of Appeal judge who also chaired the inquiry into press ethics. At Southwark Crown Court, for example, juries in complex fraud cases have been given the court documents digitally on iPads. 

In September 2015, Ceeney told a criminal lawyers’ conference that the Courts Service spends half a billion pounds a year on building stock, despite more than a third of courts being unused more than 50% of the time. She proposed a “digital paradigm” for delivering justice.

In March 2016, Ceeney appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), along with the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice, and the director of public prosecutions, to give evidence on efficiency in the Criminal Justice System. 

Stephen Phillips, who also sits as a part-time judge, questioned Ceeney, who was forced to admit that a fundamental problem is judicial time.

Phillips called the number of unfilled judicial vacancies a crisis. Some PAC members, he pointed out to Ceeney, “might think we have a barely functioning Criminal Justice System”. 

Ceeney’s lame performance before the committee is likely to have been a factor in her sudden departure. She is due to leave her position at the end of May 2016, and will be replaced by interim CEO Kevin Sadler.  

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