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Government outlines online court plans

An important report on the future of the UK’s Civil Court System has recommended a new online court for dealing with all monetary claims up to £25,000.

The proposals are aimed at helping people to use the courts with ‘minimum assistance’ from lawyers, with the help of user-friendly rules.

The review of the Civil Court System by Lord Justice Briggs said the online court would eventually become the compulsory forum for resolving cases within its jurisdiction.

The three-stage process will involve an automated triage system to decide on the merits of a case, arbitration handled by an assigned case officer and a judicial decision if the case cannot be resolved any other way.

In response to criticism from lawyers, Lord Justice Briggs said that law firms would have to meet the challenges posed by the new system and find a way to provide advice at a fixed recoverable cost.

“If they are all substantially implemented, then the essentially high quality of the civil justice service provided by the courts of England and Wales will be greatly extended to a silent community to whom it is currently largely inaccessible, and both restored and protected against the weaknesses and threats which currently affect it,” said Briggs.

The review is designed to coincide with a programme for reform of the courts by HM Court and Tribunals Service, which will involve significant modernisation of system.

Lord Justice Briggs’ review recommends that case officers should be made up from a senior body of court lawyers and other officials who could assist with functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters.

The case officers would be trained and supervised by judges, and their decisions subject to reconsideration by judges following a request from the parties involved.

The judge criticised claims that the justice offered by the online court would be a form of online dispute resolution.

In response to the report the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said: “Lord Justice Briggs has delivered a detailed and innovative final report, which the senior judiciary – working with the government and HM Courts and Tribunal Service – will now consider with care.”

While it is not yet clear whether online courts will go ahead in this format, many solicitors are arguing that having the right advice at hand is key, even with the new system. Its simpler approach will not necessarily negate the need for professional legal advice.

LINK: Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report