Posted by Philip Banks-Welsh, Partner
Online court pilot – a brave new world for the court system
According to minutes from the Civil Procedure Rules Committee meeting in April, a pilot scheme to test the new online court is set for late July. On the face of it, a court system offering the improved use of technology would provide an opportunity for litigants to benefit from more efficient court processes. However, many commentators question whether the online court will streamline litigation, or leave users disillusioned and frustrated.
What is the aim of this pilot?
The Ministry of Justice announced in 2014 that the HM Courts and Tribunals Service would deliver a programme of reform to courts and tribunals between 2015 and 2020. Whilst, in principle, the changes aim to reduce financial pressure on an underfunded judicial system, they also aim to modernise court technology. It is argued that this will speed up processes within the courts and introduce greater digital working, and in return disputes will be resolved more easily, quickly and cheaply.
The planned changes come at a time where the civil justice system is under immense financial pressure, with many monetary barriers to individuals and small businesses who wish to access it in order to resolve disputes. Lord Justice Briggs has stated that by investing in digitising the courts there is an opportunity to bridge the access to justice gap once and for all.
How it will work
The upcoming online court pilot will be a pivotal moment in testing this vision of the future. Cases entering the pilot will be limited to specified claims under £10,000 and parties will be encouraged to remain in the online system for as long as possible. It is to be stressed that entering the pilot scheme is voluntary for both claimants and defendants. If either of the parties do not wish to continue in the online court they can come out at any time and resume the dispute within the normal court processes.
Assistance with the system will also be available for both parties, either through a website or a call centre. If successful, the online court will be fully rolled out across the justice system and it is expected that, in time, the system will be used for larger disputes as well.
We welcome any efforts to broaden access to civil justice, whilst modernising the court system to meet the needs of its 21st Century users. However, it remains to be seen how the online court will work in practice.
It isn’t yet certain whether it really will simplify litigation processes for all parties involved and still offer the quality of justice that is generally synonymous with the legal system that we enjoy. Time will tell. Along with our colleagues in the legal profession, we will be studying the pilot scheme closely: either to see if it stands up to scrutiny, or whether the technological advances it is supposed to offer will come at too high a price.
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