People with small claims care more about resolving their disputes quickly than whether the outcome is the right one, the Master of the Rolls has claimed.
In a speech on the future of dispute resolution, Sir Geoffrey Vos also predicted that parties would become comfortable with artificial intelligence (AI) deciding their cases if there was the back-up of an appeal to a human judge.
Delivering the Society of Computers and Law’s Sir Brian Neill Lecture last week, he said that justice was “no longer a binary process”.
He explained: “For small claims, the parties often want a swift cost-free resolution, without much caring whether the outcome is robust and dependable.
“In large disputes and some other types of claim, the parameters will be different, and the parties may be prepared to invest time and money in achieving a more just and perhaps objectively correct solution.”
Sir Geoffrey reported that progress towards an integrated digital justice system for civil, family and tribunals cases in England and Wales was “well advanced”; by the end of the formal HM Courts & Tribunals Service reform programme, most smaller and bulk claims would be capable of being brought and progressed online.
But looking to the future, “far more work needs to be done” on evaluating what disputes were likely to arise in future.
For example, personal injury claims would “look very different” when every car recorded its every move on the blockchain, “so that there is no need for the measurement of skid marks and no dispute as to how fast colliding vehicles were going at the moment of impact”.
By 2040, factual disputes would similarly be almost entirely a thing of the past, at least in most civil claims, with smaller disputes dealt with “very quickly” by AI-driven portals that provide “a rough and ready resolution”.
Speed would be determined by the slowest part of the system, namely any human or judicial intervention: “A key question for the next 20 years is, therefore, likely to be the extent to which artificial intelligence can or should be used in the digital dispute resolution process.”
Sir Geoffrey said key was whether the public could have confidence in judicial decisions made by AI.
“My answer to this important question is that it will, provided the public understand what is being decided by a machine and what is not, and provided that ultimately there is the ability to question an AI driven decision before a human judge.”
Analogue systems and paper would be things of the past by the mid-202s, the judge concluded.
“Those who’s focus is the future should now look beyond the immediate developments of reform.
“The types of dispute will gradually but inexorably change as more and more data from our everyday lives are recorded on-chain and become incapable of serious challenge.
“The mid-2020s systems will be smart, but not as smart as they will need to be for the coming generation, when delays in dispute resolution will not be so widely tolerated.”