The senior judge overseeing a revamp of civil justice has been warned online courts cannot fix all the challenges facing the system.

Responding to the root-and-branch review of the courts structure by Lord Justice Briggs, the Law Society stressed any new ideas must be thoroughly tested before coming into everyday use.

Society president Jonathan Smithers said experience has shown that making any major changes to one part of the justice system may have unintended consequences.

The government and senior judiciary have backed online dispute resolution as a way of removing lawyers from some parts of the system and reducing costs.

Smithers said: ‘If it works as intended, an online court may be able to reduce the need for specialist legal advice, but it will not remove that need altogether. It must not be used as a way of normalising a two-tier justice system where those who cannot afford professional legal advice find themselves at a disadvantage against an opponent who is wealthier and/or more knowledgeable about the system.’

Smithers explained the Society supports an online court for ‘straightforward money’ disputes worth up to £10,000, but is opposed to the recommendation to extend jurisdiction to claims up to £25,000.

‘Many cases will be too complex for users to lodge a claim on an online court,’ he added.

‘Those with substantial claims may feel uncomfortable using an online platform and let’s not forget that almost a quarter of the population still has no online access.

‘Wales has the lowest level of internet access in the UK and progress on the rollout of fast and super-fast broadband indicates that there is some way to go.’

Topics