A study commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has proposed development of an Online Court to resolve civil disputes valued up to £25,000.
The Civil Courts Structure Review: Interim Report by Lord Justice Briggs says there is an opportunity to use modern IT to create a court which will enable civil disputes of modest value and complexity to be justly resolved without the incurring of the disproportionate cost of legal representation.
"In my view it offers the best available prospect of providing access to justice for people and small businesses of ordinary financial resources," Briggs LJ says.
He says administrative "case officers" would be able to decide on most applications before the court, with only the most contentious and serious applications going before a judge.
The court would be designed to accommodate disputes of modest value "precisely because it is those disputes which continue to attract disproportionate cost, if litigated with the assistance of lawyers."
Briggs LJ says the court would follow a three stage process. Stage 1 would consist of a mainly automated process by which litigants are assisted in identifying their case or defence online "in terms sufficiently well ordered to be suitable to be understood by their opponents and resolved by the court". Litigants would upload the documents and other evidence which the court would need for the purpose of resolution.
Stage 2 would involve a mix of conciliation and case management, mainly by a case officer, conducted partly online, partly by telephone "but probably not face-to-face".
Stage 3 would consist of determination by judges, either on the documents, on the telephone, by video or at face-to-face hearings, "but with no default assumption that there must be a traditional trial".
The study is now open for consultation and Briggs LJ will carry out further research and consultation before preparing final proposals.