Plans for online dispute resolution must be rigorously tested to have a chance of succeeding, a representative body has said.
The Association of Costs Lawyers has backed moves towards a less adversarial approach to litigation but warned that current ways of settling disputes online leave significant room for improvement.
Responding to the interim report from Lord Justice Briggs on civil courts, the ACL said the examples of Money Claim Online and the small claims mediation service need closer scrutiny if they are to serve as a benchmark for online courts.
Briggs indicated in January that an online court for claims up to £25,000 will remove the need for lawyers, can speed up the system and could reduce costs for litigants.
The ACL said experience of the existing Money Claim Online, run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, had shown it is not a straightforward system even for someone with a legal background.
‘To use a system which is not operating adequately as a benchmark for what is to come is, in our opinion, flawed,’ said the ACL.
‘A full survey of users of the process should be undertaken, before that process is used as a template for what will be an expensive and time-consuming exercise.’
The response added that experience of the small claims mediation service, a free service for claims worth less than £10,000, ‘has not been positive’.
The ACL asked more generally whether enough attention has been paid to whether the changes outlined by Briggs are technically feasible, and whether there are sufficient resources to plan, deliver and monitor the change.
The association called for greater use of specialist costs judges in county courts and a role for costs lawyers in support of case officers handling claims before they are seen by a judge.
‘A large number [of judges] have no interest in dealing with the issue of costs and quite often allow their dislike of the topic to cloud their judgement when making decisions,’ added the response.
‘Members have reported instances when assessment costs have been increased by the intransigence of the presiding judge.’
Briggs is set to outline his final report in July.