Could on-line courts become a reality? 


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The final report of Lord Justice Briggs’ Civil Courts Structure Review was published on 27 July 2016. This long awaited report follows on from Lord Justice Briggs' review of the court system.

The interim report recommended the re-structuring of the court system, and in particular suggested the potential implementation of an online court, reducing the need for traditional, face-to- face litigation. Following an invitation for comments from The Judicial Office, the final report was published.

The concept of an online court was originally proposed by legal futurologist, Professor Richard Susskind. His proposal focused on the creation of three stages to the litigation process; the first being a system (which seems largely to be automated) to identify the issues, the second being conciliatory (managed by case officers) and the third, being resolution by members of the judiciary.

The final report reveals that Briggs' LJ’s final review heavily features the proposal for a new online court. The concept it seems focuses on a form of litigant in person tribunal.

Great emphasis will be placed upon the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (reflecting the shift towards parties engaging in ADR within traditional litigation).

The proposal raises the key question of how this will work in practice. What will no doubt come as a relief to many housing practitioners, whilst the interim report indicated that mandatory possession and disrepair claims could feature in any such online court, it has been confirmed that possession claims of any sort will not be suitable for inclusion. In respect of disrepair claims, Briggs LJ suggested that claimants in damages only claims under £25,000 could elect to use any such online court system.

It is hard to imagine how housing cases might fit within such a concept. Despite the recent rise in so-called ‘artificial intelligence’, it is hard to conceive that an automated computer system could be designed which would be sufficiently sophisticated to deal with such cases.

We all acknowledge that housing law is an area with discrete (and often subtle) complexities – could a computer really distinguish between the issues involved?

For now, only time will tell as to whether, or when, the proposal for an online court will be introduced and no doubt all housing practitioners will follow the developments of this concept.

 

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