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Online Justice – Virtual Horizons

On 27th July 2016, the Ministry of Justice published the long awaited Civil Court Structure Review: Final Report by Lord Briggs et al. on the future of the civil courts in England and Wales.

Rather than focusing on the thrift by way of consolidation and centralisation of the Crown estate, Briggs’ instruction was to envisage a Court structure fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Briggs’ Report was published some two years after another groundbreaking report by Lord Jackson entitled the Review of Civil Litigation Costs. Beneath this rather innocuous title lay reforms that, at least in my view, have massively increased complexity (and therefore costs) in higher value claims. However, that’s another story…

Briggs instruction lay in forming a multipurpose Court of the future, using technology at its forefront.

Briggs’ vision was set out in the report. Though little has been mentioned in the mainstream press, the civil courts are bound to change and sooner rather than later. The courts are lumbering juggernauts, but they move faster now than they have ever. We are on the verge of the biggest change in the Court structure since the Judicature Acts of 1887.

In essence, Briggs set out a new process for most money claims under £25,000 in value. They would be required to proceed through the ‘Online Solutions Court’, which would have its own procedure, case officers and judiciary. A form of justice in the cloud, you might say.

Gone would be the days where advocates or litigants would spend a dreary day arguing points of law at County Courts from Chester to Chichester. Now cases would be determined remotely, only holding hearing or trials if absolutely necessary, and by telephone or video call facility if possible.

The implementation has started. Quietly, incrementally, the changes are being made. Of course, much depends on centralised investment from government in what most would consider inadequate and antiquated IT systems operated by the civil courts.

My feeling is that the changes will come sooner rather than later. The closure of local County Court hearing centres will limit or restrict people’s access to justice in a way that can be met, at least in part, by an online based justice system.

We live in interesting times, with Lord Jackson again on his “Tour of England and Wales” taking views on the very real prospect of recoverable fixed fees for Fast Track cases being introduced. In other words, a limit on costs you can recover from the other side in cases between £10,000 and £25,000. Slippery slope to the ‘no cost’ regime for Small Claims (under £10,000)? Possibly.

I will, as ever, be keeping abreast. Do drop me a line if you are planning on litigating or if you’d like to know more. I’m sure I can assist.

Interesting times…

Contact Gareth to discuss this or any other queries.

Gareth Raisbeck, Head of Dispute Resolution – gareth.raisbeck@cookco.co.uk

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