The pioneering digital tribunal thought to be the model for England and Wales’s online court will begin resolving small claims disputes worth under about £3,000 on 1 June, it has emerged. British Columbia’s civil resolution tribunal claims to be “the first online tribunal in the world that is integrated into the public justice system”.
The first signs of an online court will be visible in tribunals by September, online processes will be extended to a wide range of civil court proceedings by May 2020, and the reforms will be incremental, according to one of the judges in charge.
The online court should be trialled alongside physical courts for five to 10 years because so many people will be excluded – some one in five according to government figures – from accessing digital-only services, according to a leading researcher.
Small businesses need a “beefed up” legal system that prevents disputes in the first place and resolves those that occur more, their representative body said today. This includes integrating the online court “seamlessly” with other courts, and a specialist commercial track in the small claims court.
An online court should be introduced slowly and modestly rather than as ‘big bang’, according to one of the original architects of the dispute resolution model from which Lord Justice Briggs drew when devising his Civil Court Structure Review.
The online small claims court expected to be the model for England and Wales was launched in Canada last week when the Act moving it from voluntary to mandatory claims came into force. The value threshold for claims will eventually will rise to those up to C$25,000 (£14,610).
The new Online Court will not “ban lawyers” and there will be “a very limited element of fixed costs” so litigants can get initial legal advice, Lord Justice Briggs has said. He said the top limit for claims in the Online Court “may have to start at £10,000”, rather than £25,000.
Online divorce and probate are set to be delivered under the courts modernisation programme by early 2017, the president of the Family Division has said. Sir James Munby also called on family barristers to adopt new working practices, including direct access, unbundling and fixed fees.
The London Litigation Solicitors Association and the Law Society are pushing for a lower £10,000 limit for cases in the Online Court. In his interim report, Lord Justice Briggs proposed a limit of £25,000. The LSLA said that there should be fixed or capped costs for litigation between £10,000 and £25,000.
The Lord Chief Justice has predicted that the use of fixed costs will be extended gradually and not in “one big bang”, which people would find “uncomfortable”. Lord Thomas also indicated that litigants at the planned online court would be allowed “minimal legal assistance”.