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 the 299-page report, Lord Justice Briggs said it was “not a design objective of the Online Court to exclude lawyers.
“The underlying rationale is that whereas the traditional courts are only truly accessible by, and intelligible to, lawyers, the new court should as far as possible be equally accessible to both lawyers and LiPs [litigants in person].”
He called on law firms to meet the challenges posed by the new system and find a way to provide advice at a fixed recoverable cost by providing unbundled advice instead of full retainers in cases with a ‘low’ value.
“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 the 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 a number of the reforms being recommended are already an integral part of the HM Courts & Tribunals Service reform programme, such as the Online Court, the report has benefited from wide consultation which will help to improve the design and planning of those reforms.”
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.
However, if the proposals do succeed and become reality then some law firms may have to adapt their structure to ensure they remain competitive in the new marketplace.
To find out how we can assist by helping you create a competitive structure that takes into account the needs of your practice and those of your clients, please contact us.