This is part of a six-year plan to modernise the courts. In particular, it involves digitising the administration and processes of the judicial system, bringing the courts into the 21st century. It can be accessed from home, but it’s envisioned that physical courtrooms will also have digital areas.
Aims of the Online Solutions Court
The idea of the Online Solutions Court isn’t simply to move the existing system online. Instead, Etherton proposes a complete redesign, combining the current civil, family and tribunal claims into one online portal. This will be accessed directly by litigants, but they won’t need to understand the procedural rules.
To this end, the primary legislation to set up the Online Solutions Court will include the establishment of an online procedures rules committee. This will create a single set of rules for the three jurisdictions, and the portal will be set up to guide litigants through the procedures.
Problem Solving in the Online Solutions Court
Problem solving will be central to the new system’s three-tier process. The pre-issue stage will overlap with pre-action protocols, but will also point litigants to the appropriate sources of legal advice. The aim is to avoid legal action in as many cases as possible, but if the claim goes forward, all documents and stages of the process will be dealt with online, with telephone support.
Case officers will also be available, who will attempt to help the parties settle their dispute. Mediation and early neutral evaluation will be used, while a new alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process will be established.
The Online Solutions Court won’t mean that judges, barristers and solicitors will be cut out of the process. Both solicitors and barristers will be involved throughout, whether advising on the claim’s merit or preparing a defence. Cases will sometimes be heard remotely by a judge — this could be by video link or telephone, or simply by examining the papers, and the appeals and enforcement procedures will be unchanged.
Will It Work?
The aim of the Online Solutions Court is to make justice more easily accessible to people, while allowing cost-cutting through the reduction in the number of physical courtrooms. As with all such aims, its effectiveness will doubtless depend partly on the relative weight given to these two aims. Time will tell.
If you’re unsure how these changes may affect your claims, feel free to contact me for a chat.