The Civil Justice Council has announced today its proposal to introduce online Courts to deal with small, non-criminal cases.
The move comes as apart of a strategy to not only save costs, but to modernise the Court system in England and Wales, which has failed to keep up with modern technology. The proposal, which is welcomed by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service, the body responsible for running the Courts in England and Wales, goes beyond simply offering Hearings online, but will offer a range of tools designed to help parties (particularly those representing themselves) to identify the areas of dispute and to try and resolve the dispute without the involvement of a Judge.
Commentators have welcomed the approach, but highlighted the key difficulty which is locating the technology that can deliver the plans. A few years ago a plan to introduce ‘paperless’ Courts was introduced, under which electronic filing of documents was implemented at a number of Courts. However, this has not been met with the gusto expected, with many Judges and lawyers continuing to work with paper files.
The main problem with a paperless or online Court is the IT. The system must be secure to keep often very private and sensitive papers safe, but should be accessible from the wide variety of systems used by Courts, law firms and indeed private individuals. This is difficult and very expensive to acquire.
An online system will also not resolve a continuing problem for small claims courts which is the need to support litigants in person. Whilst it may be cost effective for Claimants to represent themselves in a small claim, a great deal of time and expense goes into supporting litigants in person, who are unfamiliar with the rule and practices of the civil courts, through the legal process. The introduction of an online system is only going to transfer that problem to an online platform, rather than providing a solution.
Until a suitable IT system and a support network for litigants in person can be found, it is unlikely that such an engaging and innovative online court system will be available any time soon.