The rules which govern the civil courts in England and Wales are continually changing. One of the most significant overhauls of the Civil Courts Structure is anticipated following the publication of a final review report by Lord Justice Briggs in July 2016, with the introduction of online courts.
What are online courts?
The review committee has recognised the requirement for modernisation with the most significant proposal in being the introduction of an “online solutions court”. These will be designed predominantly to assist claimants with low value (initially up to £10,000) and non-complex claims to seek intervention from the court without the need for legal representation. Although legally represented claimants will also have use for the online court, the aim is to address the gaps in access to justice created by high legal costs, complex funding arrangements and delays in the court process.
It’s intended that the online solutions court will be overseen by case officers with legal qualifications and experience rather than the current judicial hierarchy, although there will be scope for judges to become involved and conduct face-to-face hearings should it be deemed necessary, however this will not be the default position.
How will this affect the current system?
The introduction of online courts will negate the need for many of the current bricks and mortar courts with thirty-six County Court hearing centres already planned for closure as the result of a public consultation – more may follow.
It’s been recognised for many years that our current court system needed a shake up and the CPR committee, in recognition of that, introduced a shorter trial and a flexible trial pilot scheme which began last October.
When will this come into effect?
Although the take up of these pilot schemes has been slow, their introduction and the content of Lord Justice Briggs’ review highlights the judiciary’s realisation that more needs to be done to provide fair access to justice within our system. The movement towards online procedures over paper demonstrates a willingness to keep up with other industries to enable us to provide the service required.
The changes set out above will likely take time to implement however it may be that our court system is unrecognisable in the years to come.