Tribunals are set to embrace online dispute resolution (ODR) in step with Lord Justice Briggs’ plans for an online court for civil cases, with the principle of ‘digital by default’ to the fore, the Senior President of Tribunals revealed yesterday.
A pilot is to run in the Social Entitlement Chamber as a matter of priority, according to Sir Ernest Ryder.
Tribunals are benefiting from the £700m promised by Chancellor George Osborne last year to modernise the justice system, money that Sir Ernest described as “a significant vote of confidence, and particularly pleasing given the wider financial constraints across the public sector”.
In his annual report, published yesterday, Sir Ernest said that the combination of modernisation and new flexible powers to allocate the right cases to the right decision-maker should allow tribunals “to identify and solve problems more quickly and easily, and be able to arrive at the nub of a case, resolving wrong decisions and weeding out the hopeless cause.
“That service will be delivered through modernised hearing rooms; in community buildings in remote locations; by video link on laptops, tablets and phones; or iteratively online with parties and decision-makers increasingly being able to avoid a traditional face-to-face hearing.”
He recalled that his predecessor, Sir Jeremy Sullivan, predicted that ODR “was one of the most innovative and cost effective ways to ensure that tribunals remain accessible to users”.
Sir Ernest – who took over last year – said this was now in motion. “A central part of our vision for the future of tribunals is that services will be ‘digital by default’. We must ensure that this vision is delivered over the next four years and that Sir Jeremy’s prediction moves closer to reality.
“‘Digital by default’ is a position we will keep referring to as the reform programme gathers pace. In some of our jurisdictions, the current end-to-end process of lodging and pursuing a claim is, in some jurisdictions, already delivered digitally; but there is much more than can be done on remote case management, online itineraries and listing, and hearing room utilisation.”
Sir Ernest said he recently visited the back office of the Traffic Penalties Tribunal in Wilmslow, Cheshire, which operates a near paperless system.
“Appellants lodge their appeal online and receive a pin number which enables them to access their appeal online. When the appeal has been registered, an adjudicator can decide at the outset whether the appeal should proceed. The system is designed so that the entire process can be completed digitally but in the event that a claim proceeds to a face-to-face hearing, the evidence is viewed through the adjudicator’s laptop on a large video screen.
“This is an example of the many possibilities that exist which we can develop across tribunals generally.”
He said the plan was to use Social Security and Child Support (part of the Social Entitlement Chamber), which deals with high volumes of cases with appellants almost always representing themselves, to pilot this style of online dispute resolution “as one of our first priorities in the reform programme”.