Resolving neighbour disputes using iPhone evidence and a video hearing might be more effective than the parties travelling several miles to court, a senior government official has said, outlining significant developments to modernise the justice system.

Kevin Gallagher, digital director at HM Courts & Tribunals Service, said the government needed to learn from the ombudsman model, where huge numbers of relatively low-value or low-stakes cases are resolved quickly and cheaply by avoiding hearings.

Gallagher was speaking at a Modernising Justice Through Technology, Innovation and Efficiency conference in London last month. His speech was published yesterday.

Gallagher said: ‘For a dispute between neighbours about the height of a Leylandii tree, iPhone evidence and a video hearing may prove far more effective than the parties appearing in a court miles from the site in question.

‘And, for our family courts, we need to make it as straightforward to claim uncontested probate as it is to submit a tax return or renew your annual car tax.’

Gallagher described technology as a ‘key enabler’ in four projects in the government’s civil and family reforms: probate, divorce, social security and child support tribunals, and online courts.

An online applications process will be introduced in the probate service, which will handle payments, and provide online case tracking and automated management.

A new, online service will enable tribunal users in social security and child support appeals to start and progress a case.

Meanwhile, a new online plea functionality for traffic offences has led to an increased number of pleas being made, reducing the number of non-pleas and court sessions held in absence.

A new ‘juror summonsing service’ will allow anyone summoned to respond directly into the IT system to share their availability or request to be excused – the type of functionality that was ‘standard in many walks of life but is a step change for justice’, Gallagher said.

Highlighting the progress made to digitise the criminal justice system, Gallagher said six million pages of evidence have been stored on the digital case system, equating to a pile of paper the height of The Shard, a 95-storey skyscraper in London.

‘It’s also worth being aware that this evidence would previously have been printed at least three times,’ Gallagher added.