Influential advisory body the Civil Justice Council has urged a measured approach to the adoption of a new online court for civil cases.
In a response to Lord Justice Briggs’ interim report on civil justice, the body of leading judges and academics reiterates its support for a three-stage process in resolving disputes online.
But the response acknowledges that the debate around what category of cases can and should be exempted from the online court – or even whether its use should be compulsory – was likely to be ‘controversial’.
The CJC says it wants the online court to have a separate set of rules and to be run in harness with the main court structure, and recommends that the government pilot any attempt to create a ‘radical shift in mainstream dispute resolution’.
Briggs (pictured) has suggested the creation of an online court for claims worth up to £25,000 to provide access to justice without incurring the cost of lawyers.
Following the proposals of legal academic Professor Richard Susskind, the proposed format would consist of three stages: an automated service for identifying issues; case management by assigned officers; and resolution by judges.
The CJC said Briggs’ report was a ‘timely intervention’ to the issue of how the civil justice system should be configured and reformed to meet the needs of its users and of society.
The group said successful online claims systems already in use can provide examples of what can be achieved.
The CJC response states that some activities must be reserved for judges, and also supports the suggestion that for certain functions case officers should be legally qualified.
‘In any event, training and supervision of case officers, and the ability for parties to have decisions reviewed by judges, needs to be an integral part of processes.’
Briggs has said judges may well need more training in the law relevant to a ‘substantially wider caseload’.
Several questions need answering before the review is complete in July, according to Briggs, including what types of claim should be excluded, what costs will be paid by each side and whether any appeal should be made to circuit judges.
The issue of online courts has already divided sections of the legal profession, with the City of London Law Society largely backing the plans and the Law Society suggesting that online courts are suitable only for straightforward low-value disputes.