January 21, 2016

Online Court: E-Justice

This post was written by: Patrick Macavoy

Online Court: E-Justice

Critics of the UK Judiciary argue it is outdated, overpriced and no longer fit for purpose. This comes with the growing number of people being un-able issue legal proceedings because of the near abolition of legal aid. The disproportionate legal costs which come concurrent with legal representation have led to a drastic increase in people representing themselves.

Many attribute these factors to the perceived failure in the family courts where there has been a substantial rise in the number of children taken into care.

In an attempt to combat these flaws Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls (the third most senior judge in England and Wales after the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice), has backed various reports to create a new branch of the court system based online.

The Civil Justice Council published a report entitled ‘Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims’. The report argued that a HM Online Court (HMOC) should be set up to decide “suitable cases” on the basis of papers being submitted electronically. Only civil claims under £25,000 and ‘appropriate’ family law cases would be heard by the HMOC.

In the ‘Civil Courts Structure Review’ by Lord Justice Briggs, he argues an Online Court would be “unique among attempts to assist litigants without lawyers because it seeks for the first time in this country to take advantage of the facilities offered by modern IT at all stages in its process.”

It is likely that the proposed online courts will manifest into reality. The inspiration and perceived practicality of an online court has sprung from e-Bay’s online disagreement negotiation procedure – where over 60 million disagreements amongst traders are resolved annually.

Prof Richard Susskind, president of the Society for Computers and Law, stated that “other jurisdictions, notably Holland and Canada, are already forging ahead”.

The MoJ (Ministry of Justice) has already pledged “£75m a year for capital spending to modernising technology within the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS)” says Owen Boycott in an article for the Guardian.

In Lord Justice Briggs’ report he admitted that civil court proceeding where “unaffordable” to most. The question remains whether this “radical and important structural change” will alter the, now common, perception that justice in England and Wales is often inaccessible for the poorest in society. A judicial class divide if you will.