David Carter, CEO of The Sheriffs’ Office thinks it could be.
Given the recent criticism from many quarters as court fees seem to be rising ever more frequently, with genuine concerns that this will prevent access to justice, an alternative and more cost effective court system is being considered by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has set up an advisory group to look at the possibility of setting up a system to provide online dispute resolution (ODR) for lower value civil claims. The group recently published their report and recommendations, and says Mr Carter, it makes for interesting reading.
You can download the full report from their website here
The thinking behind the proposal is to provide greater access to justice for lower value civil claims, which CJC determine as claims below £25,000. This figure covers a very large proportion of civil money claims, when the MoJ states that 90% of claims are for £10,000 or less.
The CJC concludes that the current system is “too costly, too slow and too complex”, especially for litigants in person (LIPs). The proposal is a new internet-based online court service, to be called “Her Majesty’s Online Court” or HMOC. They say this is not a case of computerising the existing system, but rather starting afresh and designing a fully internet-based procedure. The expectation is that the system will launch in 2017.
Is this feasible?
The report gives examples of the internet already being used to resolve disputes, most notably commercial organisations such as eBay, where around 60 million disputes between traders each year. Canada and the Netherlands are looking at launching an ODR court system, with Canada launching in British Columbia this summer.
The costs to the tax payer will be reduced through the use of already available software platforms, and running costs will be covered by fees which are expected to be lower than the conventional court fees.
How will it work?
The CJC proposal is a three tier system, aiming for resolving disputes as quickly as possible, but with a clear escalation process, when required.
Tier One – is an online evaluation
- To help users with a grievance classify and categorize their problem, be aware of their rights and obligations, and understand the options and remedies available to them.
Tier Two – online facilitation
- To bring a dispute to a speedy, fair conclusion via online facilitators, without the involvement of judges
- Communicating via the Internet and telephone conferencing, facilitators will review papers and statements and help parties through mediation and negotiation
- There will also be some automated negotiation to help parties resolve differences without the intervention of human experts
Tier Three – online judges
- Full-time and part-time members of the Judiciary who will decide suitable cases or parts of cases on an online (or teleconferencing) basis, largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically as part of a structured process of online pleading.
The CJC advisory group concludes that even though HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has first-rate judges, the current system for resolving low value civil cases does not meet basic criteria.
Can it work in Practice?
Mr Carter of the Sheriffs’ Office says,
“It should certainly help claimants go through the process more easily and, if set up and functioning correctly, relieve pressure on the current court system, which is creaking at the seams. However, putting it in place will not be without its challenges, as can be seen from existing ODR systems such as eBay, which is not without issues.
“So, it sounds good in principle, but the real acid test will be how well it is designed and implemented: it will be interesting to see how the BC pilot in Canada works out.”