Online courts have been proposed in a report by a senior judge who has set out further potential reforms for the civil courts.
Lord justice Briggs is keen for there to be the introduction of an “online court”. This is to go much further than the Money Claim Online facility which is currently available to start a claim. It is to include the actual progress of the case after that stage up to and potentially including the trial or determination. In effect, claims would not be transferred out to a local County Court after a defence has been filed, as is now the case. Instead, the Online Court would keep the dispute and progress it to resolution.
Online Courts – Why?
The intention is to streamline the current process further and to take solicitors and legal advisors out of the claims process at an early stage. In doing so, cost savings might be achieved for the parties involved in the dispute and the court itself.
The court would require quite some investment, in particular in relation to the software and training of staff. Perhaps in the long time, it might recover those costs, especially with further court fee increases proposed.
The merits of a system to handle low value simple claims is all well and good but it is at the risk of the quality of justice. Currently, the small claims track deals with claims up to £10,000 in value. Those claims can range from the very simple to the very complex.
Lots Of Questions Still To Be Answered
It is still early days for the online court. A number of issues would need to be resolved including:
- Would it have it’s own rules or would it still follow the Civil Procedure rules?
- What value of claims should it be used for? It is proposed to be for claims up to £25,000, which is the current threshold for fast track claims?
- How will the court be paid for and will it remain a public service or be privatised?
- What fees would be imposed to use the online courts? Presumably they will be less than the current system for small claims and fast track matters.
- How will people without computer access or computer literacy bring claims?
- How will those in the court system processing online claims be monitored? It is proposed that “case officers” will handle the disputes, not Judges.
Is It Going To Happen?
We are speculative about this. Whilst greater use of electronic methods will undoubtedly create efficiencies, taking claims out of the hands of Judges and putting them with Case Officers, damages the principle of access to justice. Case Officers will not have the same level of understanding of the law, which can be essential in knowing how to get a case ready for trial.