Lawyers need to innovate and embrace online justice, say government and judges

By Matthew Briggs In Legal News

The government and senior judiciary have unveiled their vision for the digital transformation of the justice system. They believe it is time for legal service providers to explore new ways of meeting client needs and simplifying working practices.

A £1 billion plan is being put in place by judges and the government to revolutionise the way that many cases are dealt with in the UK. The changes could see online convictions for minor offences alongside a fixed fee model across much of the civil system.

As part of the overhaul, senior figures are also urging legal service providers to help people resolve disputes “without needing expensive legal representation to help them understand what to do”.

In a joint statement by Lord Chancellor Liz Truss, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and the Senior Presidents of Tribunals, it was acknowledged that such reforms would impact on the work carried out by many legal professionals. But it also stressed that there was a real need for a system that worked better for ordinary people.

The statement read:

“For lawyers especially, innovation will be invaluable: to find new ways of delivering services, of simplifying working practices, of focusing more on meeting the needs of all their clients, from defendants to families and civil claimants.

“Much is already being done by the legal professions, but the reforms will enable them to be much more ambitious. We are confident that they share our commitment to working together to shape a modern court system that will be a significant contribution to building a more just society.”

“We must make sure that the justice system is proportionate in order to save people time, shrink their costs, and reduce the impact of legal proceedings on their lives. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

The statement went on to identify “low-value cases” as a prime example of how more effective processes might avoid delay and cost, while steps could also be taken to avoid the escalation of disputes in order to keep them out of court where possible.

A more flexible system could also see a combination of online, virtual and traditional hearings to handle matters as new technologies come into play and are bedded into the existing legal framework.

“We anticipate that more and more cases or parts of cases will be carried out virtually or online,” the statement said. “In certain circumstances, of course, justice will require that parties, their advisers and judges conduct hearings in physical courtrooms.”

At the heart of these new plans are two key developments. The first entails the requirement that all cases are started online, regardless of their nature; the second is that, where appropriate, some cases are entirely handled online to maximise convenience for all parties involved.

To facilitate changes, new “highly simplified procedural codes” will be implemented to aid dispute resolution and avoid expensive legal representation. As the statement suggested, “More needs to be done to control the costs of civil cases so they are proportionate to the case, and legal costs are more certain from the start . . . so the costs of going to court will be clearer and more appropriate.”

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