So said Lord Thomas, Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales, in his first answer at his annual press conference on 17 November 2015. He was speaking of the prospect of the smarter use of technology by the courts and those who use them, with particular reference to civil litigation. Cash will be critical to any such reform. The financial position should be a good deal clearer after the Autumn Statement by the Chancellor on 25 November, as my colleague Jef Mitchell noted in his recent post from 17 November.
Lord Thomas’ latest comments mark the most recent senior judicial support for radical procedural and structural reform based on the far greater use of 21st century technology. Opinion in favour of such reform has grown since the publication in February of “Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims” by the Civil Justice Council (CJC).
The CJC report recommended delivering online dispute resolution (ODR) services via three tiers of support, delivered online, for cases under £25,000, those being: evaluation, facilitation and adjudication. In the foreword to the ODR report, Lord Dyson MR said that “At a time of major pressure on public spending and high legal costs, ODR offers a major opportunity to help many people for whom public funding to resolve disputes is not available, or for whom legal costs are prohibitive.”
Clearly, ODR / HM Online Court (HMOC) is not going to happen unless there is adequate funding from central Government. The nature and extent of any such funding should be a good deal clearer after the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday 25 November. Asked on 17 November if he knew whether funds would be made available, the Lord Chief Justice replied: “No. Quite rightly, we do operate a principle here where the Government will make its announcements when the Government does and I await that announcement.”
Even if the final funding position has not yet been confirmed, it does seem likely that ODR / HMOC will be implemented over the life of the current Parliament. There is widespread support among the senior judiciary. The CEO of the Courts Service has spoken publicly, several times since the summer, of the need for such changes and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, seemed to put his weight firmly behind it when speaking to MPs earlier in the year (covered in a blog post from August here).
We therefore take the view that ODR / HMOC would appear likely to be a priority area for which Mr Gove would have looked to secure funding from Treasury as part of the spending settlement for his department, the Ministry of Justice. We will all know a lot more after 25 November.
About the Author
Alistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.
Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.
He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).