Tribunals president outlines vision for ‘one-stop shop’ justice

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  • Sir ernest ryder

The justice system should be a ‘one-stop shop’ that can resolve multiple problems via a single entry point, the senior president of tribunals said yesterday.

In a speech on modernisation of access to justice in times of austerity, Sir Ernest Ryder (pictured) said there needed to be a change in how litigation is viewed, from an adversarial dispute to a problem to be solved.

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He said: ‘Digitisation presents an opportunity to break with processes that are no longer optimal or relevant and at the same time build on the best that we have to eliminate structural design flaws and perhaps even the less attractive aspects of a litigation culture.’

Ryder added: ‘If we simply digitised our existing courts and tribunals, and their processes, all we would do is digitally replicate our existing system. Such an approach would fossilise our Victorian legacy.’

He said digitisation of the courts process also gives the opportunity to create a seamless system of justice that is better at solving problems.

He said: ‘If a litigant, party, or user has a problem, they should be able to come to the court system to have it resolved. They should not have to compartmentalise their own problem and run to different parts of the system with each bit.’

Ryder described the current system, where courts and tribunals have overlapping jurisdictions over a number of areas, as ‘patently inefficient’ and a ‘less than ideal way of delivering justice’.

He said that digitisation and development of online courts should create a single point of entry to the justice system, which could facilitate the direction of claims to the right part of the system, thus avoiding duplication.

Ryder also outlined his plans to trial an online dispute resolution in the tribunals, through a pilot in the Social Entitlement Chamber to test out a concept called ‘online continuous hearings’. 

In these trials, the appellant and the Department for Work and Pensions - the respondent in these cases - would review and comment on case papers online, so that issues in disputes could be clarified and explored.

He said that although there is no single trial or hearing in the traditional sense, the approach is similar to that already used in other jurisdictions, where the trial process is an interactive one that stretches over a number of stages.

He added: ‘In our model, however, we will not need those stages to take place in separate hearings, or indeed, unless it is necessary, any physical, face-to-face hearing at all. We will have a single digital hearing that is continuous over time.’ 

Ryder also said judges could be put to better use and deployed flexibly. He said this would help create a ‘one-stop shop’ approach, and would enhance career development in the judiciary by developing skills and expertise.

He said: ‘Our vision is of one system of justice, supporting the needs of all our diverse users, without consigning any to a second-class service; one judiciary, with specialist expertise, deployable across jurisdictions, flexible and responsively and as caseloads require […] and better quality outcomes, facilitated through innovative problem-solving and inquisitorial dispute resolution.

‘Austerity has provided the impetus to develop and realise that vision, to take the necessary steps to modernise our justice system and bring it into the 21st century.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • One-stop-shop? 99p store, more like.

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  • Aren't we trying to come out of the European systems ?

    Might not be a bad idea to at least trial it, given that our legal system has been systematically dismantled in under a decade.

    Personally, I'd prefer a computer system called 'Hell' to adjudicate, it cant be any worse than a bad tempered crusty, tired, cynical DJ.

    Whilst were on, why don't Governments consult with Solicitors about changes to the system, instead of the 57 old fart style Judiciary, who frankly have no idea what they are doing. See Wolfe, Jackson et al.

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  • ‘If we simply digitised our existing courts and tribunals, and their processes, all we would do is digitally replicate our existing system. Such an approach would fossilise our Victorian legacy.’

    (said a man in a long grey wig).

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  • How much more of this judicial claptrap do we have to endure.

    So instead of parties with legal professionals who will filter relevant documents and present them in a neat bundle and who will examine witnesses on the relevant points at a hearing we will instead have an ongoing (possibly for ever....) case in which the parties 'comment' on documents. Far from 'one stop shop' it will utter chaos with judges dealing with many separate issues over time. When will someone explain to these idiot judges how litigation actually works.

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  • '- Ryder also said judges could be put to better use and deployed flexibly -'

    - gives a whole new meaning to 'flexible friends' I guess!

    LB

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  • What does any of this actually mean? Less specialization in the court system? Fine but it'll only work for very low-level cases. Perhaps what we need it some sort of Court a notch down on the rung from the High Court in which Judges, perhaps 'District Judges' and their Deputies who can deal with all manner of civil work from bankruptcy to family to personal injury to a partnership dispute.

    Can we call them...County Courts?

    Feedback welcome!

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  • Michael Fabricant's outburst is apt at this point.

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  • "In these trials, the appellant and the Department for Work and Pensions - the respondent in these cases - would review and comment on case papers online, so that issues in disputes could be clarified and explored."
    Since most appellants in these cases are LIPs, the scope for underhand case disposal to their disadvantage would increase. In my experience DWP officials have no interest in helping a tribunal arrive at any conclusion other than dismissal of the appeal.

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  • Sir Ernest appears to be trailing a shift away from adversarial trials, which begs the question of who will conduct the inquisition? He states it is the Respondent in the Social Entitlement Chamber, who is, of course, independent. It may be the case that some claims of some types are misconceived, and a fuller explanation of whatever a claimant sues about would settle the claim. There is existing provision for RFI, although goodness knows how a (supposedly mistaken) claimant LIP could frame the right questions. Is it really the case that questions should be framed by the Defendant/Respondent?

    The plain truth however s that we will not, under this Government, see a return to old ways. I don't believe them to be wicked or corrupt, as some posters (elsewhere) have insinuated, just hopelessly optimistic and naïve.

    My father, a long serving Tory councillor, characterised Tories as optimists, believing that left to their own devices most people will behave honestly and fairly; socialists were pessimists who considered folks need to be coerced/persuaded/required to behave fairly.

    As a former civil litigator I have perhaps seen more of the dark side than many, but in my life experience the socialist characterisation carries more resonance.

    But since none of the old way of doing things is likely to return during this Parliament, or the next one, or the next one, what sensible suggestions can be made to ensure as fair justice as possible on a shoestring budget? The Government may reconsider aspects if persuaded that in fact the cuts will cause longer term expense to Government (e.g. the slow withering of English law and the consequently declining contribution made to the Exchequer by the legal profession), but there will be no Danascene conversion.

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  • I do not understand the push for digitisation.

    I was born at the end of the 80's. I have grown up with computers and spend most of my waking life operating on a computer or socialising via digital media. I do almost everything via the internet - I love computers and the internet.

    However, I cannot for a second imagine why anyone would want to expose the court system to that part of the world. Clearly Sir Enest does not spend enough time on the internet. Perhaps someone could link him to the /b board on 4chan?

    People operate differently through digital media, without seeing people it is very easy to forget that they are in fact people. I do not see how a system which is nominally about helping people settle disputes fairly can benefit from becoming another faceless online forum.

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