The £25,000 threshold in a new online court for dealing with monetary claims could be increased if it proves to be a success, its creator Lord Justice Briggs has hinted.
Briggs, whose final report on the future of civil courts was published in July, said it was a case of ‘suck it and see’ and that ‘if it works it [the maximum level for claims] could grow’.
The judge, who recommended a new online court for dealing with all monetary claims up to £25,000, was speaking in a panel session called the ‘changing landscape’ at the annual bar conference in London last Saturday.
He said £25,000 was a first ambition and that ‘if it works it could grow’, adding that the sky is the limit.
Despite the courts initially being billed as needing ‘minimum assistance from lawyers’ Briggs acknowledged that there would be instances were the input from lawyers would prove useful.
This could be a ‘decisive issue of fact’ that turns on oral evidence where the answer not apparent from documents, he said.
He said there are ‘lots of cases’ where that is true and where ‘at least that part of the trial should be dealt with face to face.’
The online court will include a three-stage process, an automated triage 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.
When he launched the report, Briggs acknowledged that some would be ‘critical, sceptical or fearful’ of the concept, with the concern that users will be denied justice, the exclusion of lawyers will affect the outcome, or that £25,000 is too high a threshold.
In a separate session on the future of digital courts, Fiona Rutherford, deputy director of business strategy at HM Courts & Tribunals Service, said ‘difficult decisions would lie ahead’ when assessing the department’s estate.
‘Disposal of buildings will enable future funding and in the future we will be less reliant on our estate’, she told delegates.
Senior Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said ‘seismic changes’ are coming thick and fast and that ’we must adapt’ to changes in technology.
He predicted that work across all courts and tribunals could be transferred to the ‘cloud’ within the next four years.
‘There will be no more running after brief papers that are stuck in the back of somebody else’s car,’ he said.
‘We have to change; if we don’t we will get left behind,’ he said.
He added: ‘Judges who vowed never to touch a keyboard are now working entirely digitally’.