Online courts ‘not a universal remedy’

Family Law|February 29th 2016

Online courts are not a “universal remedy” for the financial pressures facing the court system, the Law Society has declared.

In an official response to an ongoing review of the civil court system in England and Wales, the society said it recognised the importance of IT in increasing the efficiency of the court system, but digital services could not become a substitute for legal advice.

Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said:

‘We support the desire to provide a modern, efficient and accessible civil dispute resolution service, but new ideas must be thoroughly tested before being put into practice. Experience has shown that making changes to one part of the justice system may have unintended consequences.”

An ‘HM Online Court’ was proposed by the Civil Justice Council last year, an advisory group charged with co-ordinating modernisation of the legal system. If introduced it could be used in disputes with a value less than £25,000 and may also be extended to at least some family disputes.

Mr Smithers said the court could encourage the spread of a ‘two tier’ legal system and did not remove the need for an equitable access to expert legal advice.

“It must not be used as a way of normalising a two-tier justice system where those who cannot afford professional legal advice find themselves at a disadvantage against an opponent who is wealthier and/or more knowledgeable about the system.”

The Society believes an online court has a place in uncomplicated legal disputes up to a maximum of £10,000, but the proposed limit of £25,000 would exclude many in genuine need of help.

“We will strongly oppose any approach that reduces access to justice in England and Wales, rendering it available only to those who can afford it, that have IT facilities and who are IT literate.”

The Law Society’s full response is available here.

The Law Society is a lobbying organisation representing solicitors in England and Wales.

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