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Faster, cheaper civil justice - online by 2017?

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Faster, cheaper civil justice – online by 2017?


In the latest of our glimpses into the near future, it appears we may be seeing ‘online courts’ fully rolled out by 2017.

The Civil Justice Council – which is looking to overhaul the civil justice system and bring it into the twenty-first century - has recommended an online dispute resolution system for non-criminal cases.

The proposal – which has been welcomed by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service – would see judges involved, virtually sitting on virtual benches, so to speak. As the BBC points out, the system would be not dissimilar to the online resolution centre used by eBay to settle disputes between traders and consumers. It’s worth bearing in mind that eBay’s resolution system settles a frankly extraordinary 60 million disputes between small traders each year – something which would be impossible were the disputes to be pursued in the conventional manner.

Democratising justice

The proposal is effectively a means of democratising access to civil justice, by removing the cost implication – likely to be the most common bar to access.

Importantly, the system would not be devoid of the input of legal expertise in the form of actual, as opposed to virtual, legal advice. Online facilitators – including, though almost certainly not exclusively, lawyers - would aid parties involved to reach an agreement in a form of online arbitration. If this fails to reach an agreement, judges would intervene to make rulings which would be as final and binding as any made in a conventional court.

Clive Coleman, legal affairs correspondent at the BBC, has said that “The report is not calling for improvements to the existing civil justice system, but for a radical and fundamental change to the way courts deal with low-value claims.”

‘Important and timely’

Professor Susskind, IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice (and there are those who will warmly welcome the news that such a role exists), has said that the current civil courts system is ‘too costly, too complex and too slow’. He outlined a three-tier structure in the proposed online court system, which was designed with the hope that most disputes would be settled in either of the first two stages – those of ‘dispute avoidance’ and ‘dispute containment’ -  before reaching the final ‘dispute resolution’ stage, which would be overseen by a judge. Judges would reach conclusions based on the scrutiny of papers received online, though there would be an additional option of telephone conferencing if need be.

Lord Dyson, chairman of the Civil Justice Council, said: "This an important and timely report. There is no doubt that Online Dispute Resolution has enormous potential for meeting the needs - and preferences - of the system and its users in the 21st Century. Its aim is to broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply. The challenge lies in delivering a system that fulfils that objective."

How can we help?

At Legastat, we warmly welcome developments in IT which will help ensure access to justice for all. During a period of cuts and stringent financial imperatives, efforts to bring fast, cost-effective and efficient solutions to civil justice are surely to be praised – with, of course, obvious caveats regarding the need to ensure the probity and excellence of legal advice offered.

We are proud to be at the forefront of assisting firms and chambers with ensuring their practice operates effectively in the 21st century legal landscape, offering expert professional litigation support across the full range of legal tech, from eDisclosure and eDiscovery to the creation of digital bundles. If you are looking to ensure your practice meets the expectations of your clients, contact us now, and we will help you remain ahead of the legal tech curve.