Findings by the Susskind Report have led to a radical look at the way in which the UK courts could implement reforms and introduce online proceedures to combat expensive and lengthy trials in increasingly clogged courts. The report’s author, Richard Susskind, stated that “This report is not suggesting improvements to the existing system. It is calling for a radical and fundamental change in the way that our court system deals with low value civil claims. Online Dispute Resolution is not science-fiction. There are examples from around the world that clearly demonstrate its current value and future potential, not least to litigants in person. On our model, an internet-based court would see judges deciding cases online, interacting electronically with parties. However, our suggested online court has a three tier structure, and we expect most disputes to be resolved at the first two stages without a judge becoming involved.” Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls (and Chairman of the Civil Justice Council) said: “This an important and timely report. There is no doubt that ODR has enormous potential for meeting the needs (and preferences) of the system and its users in the 21st Century. Its aim is to broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply. The challenge lies in delivering a system that fulfils that objective.” In the Working Group’s model the route taken by those seeking redress for a problem or grievance is via three stages, although the dispute may be resolved at any of them: Tier 1 – Dispute avoidance – online evaluation of the problem with the support of interactive aids and information services. This will help people diagnose their issues and identify the best way of resolving them. Tier 2 – Dispute containment – online facilitation. Trained, experienced facilitators bring an objective eye to the problem and try to help the parties reach agreement on resolving the issue. Tier 3 – Dispute resolution – Online judges. Professional judges will decide suitable cases online, largely on the basis of papers received electronically, but with an option of telephone hearings. The decisions would be as binding and enforceable as court rulings. The report envisages that in the first instance HMCTS will want to make a full feasibility assessment of the proposals, and the CJC has authorised the Working Group to continue its work so that it can offer expert advice and support to assist the developmental work. The report acknowledges that technology is changing and improving all the time, and that the Internet generation is accustomed to socialising, conducting business and accessing public services on an online basis. The report suggests the first phase for this would be progressed in 2015-16 with an online court system pilot, ahead of an anticipated full roll-out in 2017.
You can find the report here.