A new internet-based court service run by the government should be created to handle low-value civil claims, the courts advisory body recommends today.
A report by the independent Civil Justice Council says the online dispute resolution (ODR) system could increase access to justice and streamline the court process.
In particular, the CJC says ODR would address concerns that the court system is too costly, too slow and too complex – particularly for the growing number of litigants in person.
It urges HM Courts & Tribunals Service to set up a pilot as soon as practicable with a view to rolling out an online court nationwide.
The service is likely to be restricted to civil claims under £25,000, although the report says the jurisdiction of online courts could be extended to suitable family disputes.
The report’s principal author, legal futurologist Professor Richard Susskind (pictured), said: ‘This report is not suggesting improvements to the existing system. It is calling for a radical and fundamental change in the way that our court system deals with low-value civil claims.
‘Online dispute resolution is not science fiction. There are examples from around the world that clearly demonstrate its value and future potential, not least to litigants in person.’
The report proposes a three-tier model: the first providing online evaluation and facilitation to help users classify their problem and if possible bring any dispute to a swift conclusion. The second tier will involve some automated negotiation to help find a resolution without any human expert involved.
In the third tier, full-time and part-time judges will decide cases online, largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically.
The changes will require judges to be trained and authorised to decide cases online, plus state funding for the facilitation and evaluation services.
The CJC said HMCTS can establish online courts through its £75m five-year reform budget.
The report cites online companies such as auction site eBay which settles around 60m disagreements between traders each year. These are resolved either through online negotiation between the parties or a binding decision by an eBay staff member.
Small claims cases worth up to £10,000 account for almost 70% of hearings in civil courts in England and Wales. However, the number of small claims going to hearing has fallen over recent years, from 51,046 in 2003 to 29,603 in 2013.
HMCTS described the report as ‘important and thought-provoking’.