There are dozens of legal books that lift the lid on the troubles of the legal system in England and Wales. These books rightly fill the bestseller lists, but there is one book that is dedicated to putting forward concrete solutions to the issues that have made these books bestsellers. Richard Susskind’s Online Courts and the Future of Justice remains the most necessary and pressing legal text for every court user given the current climate.

In Online Courts, Susskind has outlined the future for a backlogged, inefficient court system. How has he done this? By focusing on what people who use our courts want. They want outcomes. Fair and efficient outcomes.

Drawing on his 40-year experience in legal technology, Susskind has shown that the online court is not the faceless, impersonal ‘stop-gap’ solution which critics believe it to be, but (rightly) the future of justice in this country. Susskind dedicates eight chapters to the objections raised in respect of online courts, and I challenge anyone who harbours those objections to not read these pages and feel as though their concerns have been answered.

For those who can see the green shoots of success in the last 18 months of predominantly online-based working, this book confirms those instincts that the only way is indeed up; as Susskind writes, ‘we are still at the foothills’ of the exponential curve upwards to a better court system.

So how does Online Courts make its case? Susskind outlines a total re-think of the court system, where judicial determination would feature only at the last stages of a ‘court process’. The traditional court system pre-pandemic played no role in dispute avoidance and a small role in dispute containment. Using easily digestible diagrams, Susskind comparatively maps the limit of the traditional court system, and the ground-breaking possibilities of the extended, online court in a way that demonstrates that online courts are, and should be, the new norm.

Ask yourself, what is the significant challenge facing our court system? For most, it is the backlog. Nobody sensible seriously doubts the quality of representatives and the judiciary, but we all lament the time it takes for litigants to receive justice. Considering the infamous backlog, who really thinks that a) the government will spend the money needed to reduce it and more importantly b) is throwing money at the system the way to reduce it anyway? In the online extended court, Susskind explains how the backlog can be reduced through a radical overhaul of the court system. Rather than preserving traditional practices and processes, we must rely on technology, not use it to plug holes in a creaking ship.

Even in crime the online court offers huge potential. Wouldn’t the criminal justice system be assisted if fewer resources were used in adjudicating civil and family disputes that could be avoided? We must look at the opportunities that online courts give us, not solely focus on its challenges – this shift of mindset I have already written about in Counsel.*

To those that sneer at the idea of the court system being overhauled, Susskind reminisces that he posited in the late 1980s, to great disdain from the Bar and Judiciary, that email would be the main communication form between court users. That might look like an obvious call with hindsight. But hindsight is easy; foresight is far more difficult – and it is only through engagement with books like these can we correct our course and move our court system forward.

Every barrister, solicitor and judge must ask themselves whether we want a majestic, rarely used, physical court system that perpetuates an ever-growing backlog of cases, or an effective, easy-to use, widely available system that sits comfortably in contemporary life? Online Courts is not just for those with the power to effect change, it is for every single user who works in our court system. We have been given a miraculous opportunity to make a hundred years-worth of progress in less than a generation. We all have the duty to make this opportunity count, not just to turn up to work, make our money, and go home. Online Courts must be the foundation for all conversations, immediate and long term, about the future of our justice system.