Several influential reports have been published in recent times, highlighting the critical views of judges on courts on the current situation.
In the UK, Lord Chief Justice Thomas has declared that “our system of justice has become unaffordable at most” having become a “justice system in crisis”. He looks favourably upon the inclusion of information technology in the court procedures. To this end, Lord Justice Briggs published a Civil Courts Structure Review Interim report early this year, finding that the civil courts are currently suffering from “limited, antiquated and inefficient IT systems” and requiring “radical digitisation” as a solutions to improve its service. The report proposes the inclusion of an online court (“OC”), stating that there is a ‘clear and pressing need to create an Online Court for claims up to £ 25,000 that citizens can make use of without being charged the disproportionate cost of using lawyers’, to help automise non-contentious cases. The report was commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in July 2015, with the interim report released on January 12 2015, set to be finally published in July 2016.
Early this year, Lord Justice Carloway, Lord President of the Court of Session, gave recommendations for redesigning the Scottish courtroom in accordance to technological advancements. stated that “Court reform is never complete. Our courts must be ready to adapt and respond to progressions and innovations in society (…) with a modern outlook but (…) reflecting upon historical experience” Drawing upon the Scottish Civil Courts Reform ‘Gill’ report, which outlined a set of changes to civil court rules to support modernisation, LJ Carloway proposes a set of recommendations to proceed with this transformation, such as digital recording of testimony, display of documents on screen, routine correspondence with the court by email, etc. ‘We now need to capture the benefits which 200 years of technological advances have given us. We certainly have not done so yet.”he concluded, in a Keynote speech on the 15th Annual 21st Century Bar Conference in December 2015.
In Australia, there is widespread concern that the civil justice system is ‘too slow, too expensive and too adversarial’. Much of the focus is on the courts, however many disputes are in fact settled privately, which self-help kits and minor advice are measures to empower parties to do. An ‘Access to Justice Arrangements’ Report was issued in December 2014, outlining the major concerns and findings. The report finds that greater quality control of the delivery of such services would improve their range and impact. Fears about costs and difficulty in finding legal assistance often deter parties to resort to low cost and informal dispute resolution mechanisms, which could be facilitated by establishing a gateway for citizens to navigate the legal system.
Another issue highlighted in the report is the fact that the interests of clients and the interests of lawyers are often divergent. Clients should be able to resort to independent means by which they can receive objective information and redress when professionals do not deliver adequate services. That being said, some disputes are, due to their complexities or severity, better suited to be addressed by the courts, making it paramount to reduce the costs and lengths of litigation. Moreover, disadvantaged Australians are more prone to entering legal disputes, and less empowered to deal with them, which requires more resources to be allocated to their legal assistance. Studies find that great net societal benefits are generated by governmentally funded legal assistance services.
In Canada, Chief Justice Beverley McLachin has been one of the frontrunners addressing the issue of the Access to Justice, publicly stating “The task of ensuring access to justice falls to this generation. Access to justice implied a responsive decision by the judiciary within a reasonable time and cost” at the Access to Civil Justice for Middle Income Canadians Colloquium in 2011. Two years later she lead the publication of the “Access to Civil & Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change” in October 2013, proposing innovative changes in the judiciary and emphasising the importance of the matter.
In Singapore, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has been urging legal professionals and key judicial decision-makers to curb disproportionate costs and length of arbitration. Reorganizing procedures to cut down administrative paperwork, as figures from the Singapore International Arbitration Center has shown a quadrupled caseload within a decade until 2013. As such, he encourages lawyers and judges to “embrace innovation”, an aspiration he reflected in his opening speech of the legal year 2016, in which he addressed initiatives to enhance access to civil justice in the State Courts. He moreover emphasised future developments on technology and law. Singapore has been amongst the frontrunners in incorporating IT in judicial procedures, having introduced the Electronic Filing System (EFS) already at the turn of the millennium and commenced work with the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) last year. He urging for a final report and recommendation to be published by the end of the year, authored by the recently established “Courts of the Future Tasksforce”, led by Justice Lee Seiu Kin.