The justice system should be a ‘one-stop shop’ that can resolve multiple problems via a single entry point, the senior president of tribunals said yesterday.

In a speech on modernisation of access to justice in times of austerity, Sir Ernest Ryder (pictured) said there needed to be a change in how litigation is viewed, from an adversarial dispute to a problem to be solved.

He said: ‘Digitisation presents an opportunity to break with processes that are no longer optimal or relevant and at the same time build on the best that we have to eliminate structural design flaws and perhaps even the less attractive aspects of a litigation culture.’

Ryder added: ‘If we simply digitised our existing courts and tribunals, and their processes, all we would do is digitally replicate our existing system. Such an approach would fossilise our Victorian legacy.’

He said digitisation of the courts process also gives the opportunity to create a seamless system of justice that is better at solving problems.

He said: ‘If a litigant, party, or user has a problem, they should be able to come to the court system to have it resolved. They should not have to compartmentalise their own problem and run to different parts of the system with each bit.’

Ryder described the current system, where courts and tribunals have overlapping jurisdictions over a number of areas, as ‘patently inefficient’ and a ‘less than ideal way of delivering justice’.

He said that digitisation and development of online courts should create a single point of entry to the justice system, which could facilitate the direction of claims to the right part of the system, thus avoiding duplication.

Ryder also outlined his plans to trial an online dispute resolution in the tribunals, through a pilot in the Social Entitlement Chamber to test out a concept called ‘online continuous hearings’. 

In these trials, the appellant and the Department for Work and Pensions - the respondent in these cases - would review and comment on case papers online, so that issues in disputes could be clarified and explored.

He said that although there is no single trial or hearing in the traditional sense, the approach is similar to that already used in other jurisdictions, where the trial process is an interactive one that stretches over a number of stages.

He added: ‘In our model, however, we will not need those stages to take place in separate hearings, or indeed, unless it is necessary, any physical, face-to-face hearing at all. We will have a single digital hearing that is continuous over time.’ 

Ryder also said judges could be put to better use and deployed flexibly. He said this would help create a ‘one-stop shop’ approach, and would enhance career development in the judiciary by developing skills and expertise.

He said: ‘Our vision is of one system of justice, supporting the needs of all our diverse users, without consigning any to a second-class service; one judiciary, with specialist expertise, deployable across jurisdictions, flexible and responsively and as caseloads require […] and better quality outcomes, facilitated through innovative problem-solving and inquisitorial dispute resolution.

‘Austerity has provided the impetus to develop and realise that vision, to take the necessary steps to modernise our justice system and bring it into the 21st century.’