Fresh calls have been made for the introduction of a new, digital court to the UK. The Civil Justice Council has repeated calls for a purely online court to be introduced, able to handle claims with a value of up to £25,000.
Popular internet auction site eBay has been named as a role model of sorts for the new court. Whilst this suggestion may seem surprising on the face of it, eBay operates by providing a platform for independent sellers and private buyers to interact, and disputes between buyers and sellers which are, in a sense, independent from eBay as an entity are not uncommon. The company has implemented a quite rigorous multi-levelled dispute resolution process to help ensure such cases are resolved fairly. It is this aspect of eBay which has been suggested as a useful source of inspiration for a purely digital court.
This is the latest in a series of occasions on which the development of a digital court has been suggested or actively called for. However, the latest calls for the introduction of an online dispute resolution platform are particularly pertinent as they follow the confirmation that around a fifth of all the courts in England and Wales – 86 in total – are to be closed down over the next two years. This has led to concerns about public access to justice, and fears that many people – especially those who are disabled, on low incomes, or living in rural areas – will find it harder to reach physical courts. A digital court to handle financial claims with a value of under £25,000, it has been suggested, could be a way to bypass such problems in many cases and make it easier and more convenient for both individuals and businesses to access justice and uphold their rights through the courts.
The proposed online court would also, in most cases, allow proceedings to be effectively carried out without lawyers. This, it is argued, could also help make justice more accessible again in a post-legal-aid-cuts landscape. The Civil Justice Council has issued a set of proposals which could see such a system implemented within a two-year timeframe.
Under the latest proposals, the online court would offer a three-tiered dispute resolution process. Firstly, there would be an interactive information-gathering and evaluation process. Unless an agreement were quickly reached, this would be followed by communication, interaction, and negotiation – carried out wholly online – with the help of “facilitators.” If the matter can still not be settled, then a qualified judge would make a ruling, based entirely on submissions made electronically.