Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reforming the Civil Justice system

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There have recently been two reports making proposals for reform of the civil justice system.
In the first, published in February 2015, a committee of the Civil Justice Council, chaired by Professor Richard Susskind made proposals for the development of online dispute resolution (ODR)

In summary the report calls for radical change in the way that the court system of England and Wales handles low value civil claims. We strongly advocate the introduction of online dispute resolution (ODR). The committee argued, in outline:

  • For low value claims, we are concerned that our current court system is too costly, too slow, and
    too complex, especially for litigants in person.
  • To overcome these problems, our main recommendation is that HM Courts & Tribunals Service
    should establish a new, Internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC).
  • On HMOC, members of the Judiciary would decide cases on an online basis, interacting
    electronically with parties. Earlier resolution of disputes on HMOC would also be achieved –
    through the work of individuals we call ‘facilitators’.
  • We predict two major benefits would flow from HMOC – an increase in access to justice (a
    more affordable and user-friendly service) and substantial savings in the cost of the court system.
  • ODR is not science fiction. We present a series of case studies from around the world that clearly
    demonstrate its potential.
  • We argue that to improve access to justice, it is vital not just to have better methods of resolving
    disputes but also to have effective ways of avoiding and containing disputes. ODR can help here.
  • The technology underpinning ODR is evolving rapidly. We make a series of predictions about
    the likely capabilities of later generations of ODR system.
  • Our Group would be pleased to work closely with HMCTS in a new phase of work, that should
    focus on piloting the proposals in this report.

Their report is available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/reviews/online-dispute-resolution/odr-report-february-2015/

More recently JUSTICE has published an important report – Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. A Committee, chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stanley Burnton, argues that the age of austerity should also be seen as ‘an age of opportunity’ to change the way the civil justice system operates.

It supports the proposals for ODR made by the Civil Justice Group (above) but goes further proposing that the courts take more responsibility for ‘triaging’ cases – with court officials playing a more proactive role in helping parties to disputes to resolve their problems themselves, leaving judges to deal with the most complex cases. It also argues for better information about legal rights and obligations.

The JUSTICE report is available at http://justice.org.uk/delivering-justice-in-an-age-of-austerity-report-launch/

Given the General Election, it will be some time before policy initiatives – if any – emerge from Government. But they show that there are influential figures in the legal system anxious to promote greater efficiency and a clearer user focus on the work of the courts.

 

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