Lawyerless online court must avoid two-tier justice warns Bar Council


Money claims worth up to £25,000 should be dealt with by an online court, the final report from a senior judge on civil justice reform has concluded.

Lord Justice Briggs said the court should be designed to be used by people with ‘minimum assistance from lawyers’ and have its own set of ‘user-friendly rules’.

It should, he said, become the compulsory forum for resolving cases within its jurisdiction and give special assistance to those who struggle with online systems.

Briggs recommended that case officers, a senior body of court lawyers and officials, be trained and supervised by judges to assist with certain functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters.

His recommendations also included re-establishing a court-based out of hours private mediation service in county court hearing centres, prepared along the lines of the service which existed prior to the establishment and then termination of the National Mediation Helpline.

The report, The Civil Courts Structure Review, commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in July 2015, will inform the wider programme of court modernisation being undertaken by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Signing it off, Briggs said: ‘It is for others to decide which of the above recommendations should be implemented, and by what means.

‘In my view, if they are all substantially implemented, then the essentially high quality of the civil justice service provided by the courts of England and Wales will be greatly extended to a silent community to whom it is currently largely inaccessible, and both restored and protected against the weaknesses and threats which currently affect it’.

Bar chairman, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, warned: ‘Any moves towards an online court for claims of up to £25,000 must avoid the risk of entrenching a system of two-tier justice whereby individuals opting to use a “lawyerless” online court process could easily find themselves in litigation with big organisations which can afford to hire their own legal teams.’

Dorries said efforts to modernise the court and improve efficiency were ‘essential’ and stressed that the civil justice system required ‘proper investment’.

She said the Bar would consider the report and its impact on access to justice and the reputation of the legal system.

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