A new report by advisory body the Civil Justice Council (CJC) calls for “low value civil claims” of less than £25,000. It recommends moving to a new internet-based service to be called HM Online Court (HMOC) to address issues with the current court system, which is seen as too slow, too costly and too complex, especially for litigants in person.
The Rt Hon Lord Dyson, Chairman of the Civil Justice Council and Master of the Rolls said:
“There is no doubt that online dispute resolution (ODR) is an area with enormous potential for meeting the needs 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.”
The new online court would feature members of the judiciary interacting online before deciding on a ruling. This would enable earlier resolution of disputes, the report suggests.
An online court would be more affordable and less complicated, leading to greater access to justice as well as major cost savings.
The CJC suggests that the new system be structured as three tiers.
- Tier one: Online Evaluation to help individuals categorise their grievance, lay out their rights and obligations, and highlight the options open to them.
- Tier two: Online ‘facilitation’ to help address the grievance without involving judges through a mediation and negotiation process.
- Tier three: Provision of online judges where necessary to decide on cases. Tiers two and three would feature teleconferencing where necessary.
The authors ask legal professionals to be receptive to radical solutions to the problems in the current court system. They point out that online dispute resolution is already being used in many areas to resolve issues such as consumer disputes.
In order to create the proposed online system, some judges would require training and authorisation to decide cases online. Additionally, the government would have to commit funding to the project.
The Council also recommends that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) should “introduce an ODR stream into its current programme for the reform of civil, family and tribunal work.” It suggests that all political parties offer support in-principle for the concept. An advisory group would work with HMCTS and the Judiciary to create a formal pilot, design the online court and raise public awareness of this new concept.
The report does highlight some concerns raised: whether the proposed system would alienate people who have no or little access to the internet and whether an online court would offer individuals a fair hearing. Lower income families who are splitting up may have limited access to technology. However, the working group has concluded that online use of government and other services is now commonplace and believed that the court system was lagging behind. But individuals lacking internet technology or skills should be given support in the future, it declared, and this should not be used an excuse to delay the introduction of Online Dispute Resolution.
The first phase could be piloted in 2015-16, with a full roll out in 2017.
The full report can be read here.