Lord Justice Briggs, who was comissioned a year ago by the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls to review the civil court structures, said lawyers must now face up to the challenge of unbundling and find a way to provide advice in the new system at a fixed recoverable cost.
Briggs LJ emphasised that it will be for others to decide which, if any, of the reforms will be adopted, but he said the online court will help to increase access to justice for those with unmet needs.
‘If they are all substantially implemented, then the essentially high quality of the civil justice service provided by the courts of England and Wales will be greatly extended to a silent community to whom it is currently largely inaccessible, and both restored and protected against the weaknesses and threats which currently affect it.’
The review is designed to coincide with a programme for reform of the courts by HM Court and Tribunals Service, which will involve significant modernisation of the system.
Briggs LJ recommends that case officers, made up from a senior body of court lawyers and other officials, could assist with certain functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters.
The case officers would be trained and supervised by judges, and decisions subject to reconsideration by judges on request by a party.
In his report, Briggs LJ acknowledges some will be ‘critical, sceptical or fearful’ of the online court concept, with the concern that users will be denied justice, the exclusion of lawyers will affect the outcome, or that £25,000 is too high a threshold.
The judge said it was a ‘misconception’ that clains below £25,000 were not treated seriously, or that justice offered by the online court would be a form of online dispute resolution.
In addition, the concept of the District Registry as a place for the issue of High Court proceedings will eventually be replaced by a single portal for the issue of all civil proceedings, and should then be abolished.
Briggs LJ says the family court should be given a shared jurisdiction (with the Chancery Division and the county court) for dealing with Inheritance Act disputes and disputes about co-ownership of homes.
However, the Law Society has expressed a note of caution on the importance of ensuring online courts do not limit access to justice: 'It is vital that ordinary and vulnerable people using the online court are not prejudiced when claiming against large organisations. Clarification is also needed about which claims will and will not be included as part of the online court."
A long-awaited report on the future of civil courts has recommended a new online court for dealing with all monetary claims up to £25,000. The court will be designed to be used by people with ‘minimum assistance’ from lawyers with its own set of user-friendly rules. Lord Justice Briggs (pictured), whose final report is published today, said the online court would eventually become the compulsory forum for resolving cases within its jurisdiction. As expected, the three-stage process will involve automated triage to decide on the merits of a case, arbitration handled by an assigned case officer and a judicial decision if the case cannot be resolved any other way.