Judges voiced concern that the government’s £1.2bn programme to modernise the courts could compromise access to justice.

In a private consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Tribunals Service, reported in The Times newspaper, judges said that the programme, which involves court closures, online and virtual hearings and digitising paper-based services, was ‘driven by austerity and the need to achieve savings, rather than by providing an improved service for the public, the judiciary or staff’.

They said: ‘There is also a strong sense that open justice, access to justice, local justice, should not be compromised,’ stating that ‘thinking about and planning for tomorrow should not come at the expense of delivering justice in the proceedings that come before us today’.

Two weeks earlier a report from the Public Accounts Committee warned that the reforms were being pursued too quickly and without adequate consultation due to the need to make savings. It said the ‘hugely ambitious’ modernisation programme was ‘extremely challenging to deliver’ and already behind schedule.

Committee Chair, Meg Hillier said: ‘Government has cut corners in its rush to push through these reforms. The timetable was unrealistic, consultation has been inadequate and, even now, HMCTS has not clearly explained what the changes will mean in practice.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said it was working with the judiciary and remained confident that the programme was ‘on track to creating a better, more straightforward, accessible and efficient justice system’.