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The Civil Justice Council (CJC) Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Richard Susskind OBE, has now published their report, calling for a radical change in the way that the court system of England and Wales handles low value civil claims. There is also a website here.
The Advisory Group was set up last April to explore the potential of ODR (online dispute resolution) for civil disputes of value less than £25,000.
The report states:
‘This report offers a broad statement of direction for the future use of ODR in the civil justice system. It is not a detailed blueprint. It is our first word rather than the last word on what we believe should be an important new direction for dispute resolution in England and Wales.’
‘The strong view of our Group, and this is a position that has strengthened as our work has progressed, is that ODR holds enormous potential to bring two great benefits to our justice system: a lower cost court system and an increase in access to justice. In appropriate cases, we are therefore saying that ODR can deliver more affordable and accessible dispute resolution.’
The report's principal recommendation is that HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) should establish a new, Internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC). It is recommended that HMOC should be a three-tier service which puts the emphasis on dispute avoidance (rather than the current system which starts automatically with dispute resolution):
This facility will help users with a grievance to classify and categorize their problem, to be aware of their rights and obligations, and to understand the options and remedies available to them.
To bring a dispute to a speedy, fair conclusion without the involvement of judges, this service will provide online facilitators. Communicating via the Internet, these individuals will review papers and statements and help parties through mediation and negotiation. They will be supported where necessary, by telephone conferencing facilities. Additionally, there will be some automated negotiation, which are systems that help parties resolve their differences without the intervention of human experts.
Full-time and part-time members of the Judiciary who will decide suitable cases or parts of cases on an online basis, largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically as part of a structured process of online pleadings.
The report suggests that the establishment of HMOC will "require two major innovations in the justice system of England and Wales. The first is that some judges should be trained and authorized to decide some cases (or aspects of some cases) on an online basis. The second innovation is that the state should formally fund and make available some online facilitation and online evaluation services".
The next step is for the statement of direction provided in the report to be approved in general terms by the Civil Justice Council, the Judiciary, and HMCTS, followed by two proposed further phases of work (the first of which will be piloting, designing, and awareness-raising) that will lead to the full scale introduction of HMOC to the justice system of England and Wales.
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