Carnwarth LJ, Senior President of Tribunals, told the 2011 Commonwealth Law Conference, in Hyderabad in February, that video-conferencing was being used for evidence but “we need to go further”.

“We are still largely stuck with a paper-based system, sending bundles of papers physically round the country,” he said.

“Attempts to develop effective online systems have not been as successful as hoped...We should need to question the assumption that people have to make a journey to a physical court or tribunal to get justice.”

The economic downturn has put pressure on the tribunals, he said. “No-one suggests that the civil courts could do the job more efficiently or economically. The risk, if any, is that government will think that it can do the job adequately in-house, and seek to limit rights of appeal.

“The Social Entitlement Chamber is a good example. The current recession, combined with legislative changes, has caused a dramatic increase in the workload, with consequent pressure on the system. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, social security appeals received rose from 242,800 to 339,000, and they are expected to rise to a peak of 436,000 in 2011-12. That is a growth of 80 per cent in three years. As nearly all these cases are about basic living needs, they must be dealt with quickly.”

Training of tribunal judges, currently delivered in-house within each jurisdiction, changes this month, he said, with the launch of a new Judicial College for both courts and tribunal judges.