Solicitors call for Online Court to have lower £10,000 limit

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1 March 2016

Lord Justice Briggs

Briggs LJ’s ‘case officers’ were a particular concern

The London Litigation Solicitors Association (LSLA) and the Law Society are pushing for a lower £10,000 limit for cases in the proposed Online Court (OC).

Lord Justice Briggs set out radical plans in January to create the new court for money claims worth up to £25,000, designed “for use by litigants without lawyers”.

In their responses, the LSLA and the society suggested the lower limit of £10,000 for the OC – the same as the Small Claims Court.

The LSLA said that there should be fixed or capped costs for litigation between £10,000 and £25,000, citing the example of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

Ed Crosse, committee member of the LSLA responsible for the Briggs review, said: “Costs are assessed summarily immediately after the determination of liability and quantum, so there is no delay, cost or uncertainty arising from detailed assessment.

“Our greatest concern, also identified as a concern in the review, is the feasibility of building the necessary IT infrastructure, essential for the online court to work, on time, within budget and with the necessary functionality to enable it to be genuinely user friendly for the vast majority of likely users.

“In the current climate of service and infrastructure cuts and increasing pressures on delivery of quality services at affordable prices, this represents a significant challenge.”

The LSLA was also concerned about the role of case officers, responsible under the Briggs blueprint for case management and conciliation in an OC case, though not for the final decision, which would rest with district judges.

The association said sufficient resources must be available to recruit, train and supervise case officers properly, so they would have sufficient experience and skills to conduct conciliation and mediation.

Agreeing with the LSLA that the first step should be a pilot project for claims up to £10,000, the Law Society warned: “The OC is not, however, a panacea. “Many cases will be too complex for users to lodge a claim on an OC. Many users will feel uncomfortable using an online platform for substantial claims.

“There is still a considerable subset of the population that either has no IT access, no IT skills, or neither of those.”

The society said it had “important concerns” that the conciliation stage of the Briggs blueprint might not be appropriate in cases involving an inequality of arms, such as a litigant in person against a large corporation.

“The OC also raises important issues of data security, fraud and protection. Major corporations such as Talk-Talk and Sony have been victims of high profile hacks recently.

“Such events demonstrate the difficulties in keeping data secure, a matter which will need to be addressed in this context if prospective litigants in person are to have confidence in the system.”

The society recommended that case officers should have the same level of qualifications, training and experience as a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive with three years post-qualification experience.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) said it welcomed recognition by Lord Justice Briggs that the OC would not be suitable for personal injury claims, given the “uneven playing field” between the parties and presence of an existing online claims portal.

The association suggested an ‘opt-in’ system could apply for small claims PI cases worth up to £1,000. APIL is currently resisting government plans to increase this limit to £5,000.

“An online court must be properly resourced and piloted, and must be sufficiently robust for mass public use.

“It must be recognised that an online court with limitations upon access to legal representation will result in a shift from the adversarial approach to an inquisitorial approach, with the judiciary and case officers requiring specific training on this change.”

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