“It is inconceivable that a technologically advanced and savvy society will not in ten years be capable of filing and serving all claims via the internet,” according to Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, who gave the High Sheriff’s Lecture in Leeds this autumn. “It is equally inconceivable that we should still be receiving paper bundles, paper authorities and photocopies of extracts from legal texts. We should be planning now for this future, and considering how best to recalibrate our justice system and its processes accordingly.”

He said the day would come “when the judicial Ipad replaces the judicial notebook, when evidence, like authorities already tend to be, is reviewed, highlighted and annotated in court by the judge, when legal research is carried out entirely through web-based resources.”
However, virtual courts are “likely to be a step too far”.

While tele-conferencing is already used, “witnesses giving their evidence in a traditional court by video is miles away from a fully electronic hearing with no court room”. Therefore, a scenario where witnesses, counsel, parties and judge are all in different cities and brought together by Skype or an equivalent system is unlikely to happen, he said.

This is because a trial is “the state in action” and it may be hard to maintain the seriousness of litigation “unless court hearings take place in a physical space open to the public, in which the parties, the witnesses and the judge are present”.