• Robert Spicer

‘eBay’-style Court Resolution Proposed

Earlier this week, the civil justice council released a report proposing an online court system for dealing with claims up to £25,000. The report drew on the success of the eBay’s disagreement negotiation procedure which facilitates settlements for around 60 million disagreements between traders per year. The proposed online dispute resolution (ODR) model suggests a three-tier process: • evaluation through interactive services and information • negotiation with online “facilitators” • resolution by a trained judge relying on electronic submissions.

In this process, only the judge at the last stage needs to be legally qualified. Telephone hearings are frequently utilised during the preparation of the case during pre-trial stages and could equally be used in the resolution stage. The system could be available within two years.

The move is designed to increase access to justice. As the report’s lead author Prof Richard Susskind comments, “the current system is too costly, too complex and too slow, especially for litigants in person.” The Ministry of Justice has already recognised the need to modern technology within the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

With cuts to legal aid and access to lawyers limited, there is an increasing amount of litigants in person. As the report commented, “our civil justice system is creaking…many would argue that we have indeed run out of money.”

Many practical issues arise, such as public access and desire to attend courtroom. Of the more serious issues, compelling parties’ participation, Prof. Susskind suggested a form of online reputation system, such as those used on TripAdvisor, may be required.

This novel approach does indeed tackle the serious financial issues facing the UK civil justice system at the moment, whilst incorporating modern technology which other sectors utilise. Lord Dyson, chairman of the civil justice council, commented that; “There is no doubt that ODR has enormous potential…We have been very slow off the mark in this country. I was in Singapore and Australia recently and I was ashamed to see what they are doing there. When you go around our county courts you see mountains of paper everywhere.”

Reform is certainly required, whether the legal establishment will be embracing of such radical changes, however, remains to be seen.

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