The Ministry of Justice has extended its trial of a new e-filing system to apply across the Rolls Building.

The Civil Procedure Rules were amended this week to broaden the electronic working pilot scheme to the Chancery Division, Commercial Court, Mercantile Court and the Admiralty Court.

The pilot scheme lasts for a year from 16 November and is an extension of the e-filing system already in place at the Technology and Construction Court (TCC) since April.

Electronic working enables parties to issue proceedings and file documents online 24 hours a day, every day of the year including weekends and bank holidays.

Parties access the electronic working website through HM Courts & Tribunals Service, register for an account and enter details of a new case. Further documents can also be uploaded and fees paid online.

The trial, introduced through practice direction 51O, is a symbol of the government’s commitment to further electronic working and removing paper files from court.

But the scheme remains voluntary and trial bundles must continue to be filed with the court in paper format.

Tony Guise, chairman of the Commercial Litigation Association, said: ‘The history of HMCTS’ several attempts to introduce IT into the civil courts over the past almost 20 years teaches that a voluntary system such as this will not enjoy much take up. 

‘This is not a criticism of the system but a recognition of the profession’s approach to past systems. The take-up in the TCC has been limited so far as I am aware probably because it is not compulsory.’

Lord Justice Briggs is expected to report within the coming weeks the outcome of his review of the civil court structure, with the task of making best use of potential investment for a modern, efficient and accessible civil dispute resolution service.

Litigation expert Professor Dominic Regan said the judiciary is keen to make technology advances and sees electronic filing as a key element.

‘Lord Justice Jackson [architect of the civil justice reforms of 2013] thinks it absurd that we still use paper in litigation so this marks progress,’ he said.

‘It is only a matter of time before electronic filing becomes compulsory. The extension is good news for those ahead of the loop.’