Solicitors will inevitably be phased out of low-value claims work with the advent of online courts, the architect of the digital scheme has predicted.
Professor Richard Susskind - author of a 2008 book entitled The End of Lawyers? - today called on the government to implement a new system of online dispute resolution, HM Online Court.
The scheme would involve 'facilitators' working with litigants to prevent their dispute going any further, with judges ruling online - possibly through video conferencing - for cases that cannot be settled.
Susskind (pictured) revealed that the scheme's facilitators are unlikely to be legal professionals and he admitted there is going to be less work for solicitors as a result of the drive to online dispute resolution (ODR).
‘What we are saying is for certain categories of dispute if they are going to be sorted out at a reasonable cost it is hard to see how lawyers can be heavily involved in the process,’ said Susskind. ‘With a dispute of several hundred pounds is hard to see how you can engage a legal team.’
Susskind, who was commissioned by the Civil Justice Council, which today published the report, recommended ‘automated negotiation’ to help parties resolve their differences without the intervention of human experts. This could involve so-called ‘blind bidding’ in trying to come to a settlement.
Master of the rolls Lord Dyson, who appeared alongside Susskind at a press conference to announce the report, agreed that fewer lawyers will be involved in lower-value cases in future.
‘Lawyers have been eased out from considerable areas in which they used to operate,’ he said. ‘The growth of litigants in person is just another example of that.'
‘This is not the end of the lawyer in litigation, it is just a recognition of the fact there is not much scope for lawyers to play a part in these low-value claims.’
Susskind said the second part of the CJC’s work, after the report itself, is to convince the government to take on the plans. A website was set live this morning with interviews from experts explaining how the scheme would work in practice.
Dyson insisted the online court proposal should receive support from all political parties and will also be seen favourably by judges and litigants alike.
‘There is no reason to believe litigants prefer to have to go to a court and have the panoply of a hearing before a judge – for most people that is a pretty terrifying experience and the last thing they want to do.’
The Bar Council, however, sounded a sceptical note about the proposals. In a statement today a spokesperson said: 'Like the authors of this report, we are deeply concerned about the rise in litigants in person in many areas of law. Making processes easier, more accessible, and simpler are laudable objectives. But we must be wary of creating a system which is over-simplified and does not do justice to the circumstances of particular cases.
'Justice will not be served if people with complex claims find themselves funnelled down routes that are designed for a quick result at the expense of proper consideration of relevant facts in their case. Dispute resolution, online or in court, must deliver the same quality of justice as more traditional routes.'
A Law Society spokesperson said: 'This is an exciting and interesting proposal that clearly calls for further detailed consideration. Starting with a blank sheet has merit but there are also lessons that should be learned about existing systems from experienced practitioners. Proper consultation and proper investment would be essential.'