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Online dispute resolution and access to justice

Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe was featured in the Solicitors Journal this week in an article about online dispute resolution.

The senior president of tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, suggested that the modernisation of the courts, which will focus more on online despite resolution, should not exclude the most vulnerable.

Although he declared his support for the Transforming Our Justice System paper which was released last month and will be rolled out across the country, Sir Ernest said that digital solutions should not be at the expense of access to justice.

Following the announcement of the court closures timetable across the country, it is expected that around 400 court buildings will be sold on and alternative buildings will be used.

However, since the plan to close so many courts was made public in 2010 there have been many lawyers who lawyers who have expressed their concern.

Marilyn was intrigued to know how the money raised through the selling of court buildings will be utilised.

She said:

“The president’s speech mentions £1bn investment but I worry about the overall thinking behind it and the lack of concern in relation to obtaining legal advice from qualified solicitors or barristers.”

Mrs Stowe was not convinced by the proposed online courts and expects mothers and children will become more vulnerable as less well-off people may be unable to litigate this way.

She suggested that the travelling courts is a “retrograde idea” which would mean that many areas will be left without nearby court access.

With the apparent “over-emphasis on dispute resolution”, Marilyn expressed concern that there is too much focus on process rather than ensuring that people are receiving “access to legal advice before negotiations and settlement” and that a fair outcome is achieved.

She suggested:

“Surely this is the reason for a legal system in the first place.”

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