We can expect major changes to the civil justice system over the next few years. A recent Joint Statement from the Ministry of Justice and senior judiciary sets out the vision.
The joint statement recognises that our justice system has always evolved and “Our times – with the advent of the internet and an explosion in new technology – provide the opportunity for radical change”.
The aim is to provide the public with a justice system that is just, proportionate and accessible and which will deliver swift and certain justice.
One proposal is to introduce an Online Court.
The exact name has not yet been decided but Online Solutions Court is currently the preferred option. This new court is based on the recommendations of Lord Justice Briggs in his Civil Court Structures Review. The Online Court will be compulsory for money claims up to £25,000 but with particular exclusions (such as professional negligence, intellectual property and personal injury claims). It will be a separate court with separate rules. We can expect to see an automated online triage process designed to help litigants followed by a conciliation stage handled by a Case Officer and finally a determination stage. It is at this stage that those cases which cannot settle will be decided by a judge in person or even at a video or telephone hearing.
The new court will have limited fixed recoverable costs similar to the current small claims track (which currently applies to claims up to £10,000). With that in mind, a soft launch of the new court is suggested possibly by using an initial ceiling of claims up to £10,000.
This is clearly a new initiative and we await the detail. The new proposals are an integral feature of the court reform programme which has committed to investment in technology to modernise current working practices in both the civil and criminal courts by 2020.
For more complex and higher values cases, the courts are already moving towards online working practices. The Joint Statement also explores the notion of fixed recoverable cost for a wider range of civil cases and this will be developed and be the subject of further consultation.
A greater use of technology runs behind the new vision – providing access to justice in a modern way so that the court process keeps up to date with current ways of working and the modern consumer experience.
Alternatives to litigation and conciliation are clear themes. However these concepts are already evident in the present system – court proceedings are a last resort. This applies to all types and values of claim and also in the business context. Mediation is a popular alternative dispute resolution option but there are other solutions on offer. Quite often, the pre-action correspondence stage itself will help narrow the issues, set out the legal assessment of the strengths of each party’s case and prepare the ground for negotiation which results in settlement. It is the process by which this will be achieved that will change, particularly for claims up to £25,000.
The civil justice system is indeed evolving and there could be significant changes ahead.
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