Online courts for claims up to £25,000

Online courts could hear thousands of cases

An online court should be created to hear civil claims valued at up to £25,000, the judge tasked with overhauling the courts system has recommended.

The controversial proposal, released in a report yesterday, from Lord Justice Briggs (pictured), triggered warnings from lawyers that most claimants would be channelled into a “second tier” system where they would be forced to pursue complicated actions without legal advice.

However, according to the final report of his structure review of the civil courts, Lord Justice Briggs, a Court of Appeal judge, enthusiastically backed the pilot online court programmes, which could ultimately hear tens of thousands of case annually. “The online court project offers a radically new and different procedural and cultural approach to the resolution of civil disputes,” he said.

The Times reported that the judge claimed that moving lower grade civil claims to an online dispute system “may pave the way for fundamental changes in the conduct of civil litigation over much wider ground than is currently contemplated by its first stage ambition, to resolve money claims up to £25,000 subject to substantial exclusions.”

His suggestions have already stirred concern at the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales. “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,” said Chantal-Aimee Doerries, QC, the council’s chairwoman.

The Bar fears that “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”.

David Greene, a former president of the London Solicitor Litigation Association and senior partner at the law firm Edwin Coe, said: “It is vital that we all have confidence in the online court, its functioning and development. The marriage between IT and the court process has not always been a happy one and so the recognition by Briggs of piloting with smaller claims is all important”.

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