Online courts: what will they look like?

July 30, 2018

The grand vision for dispensing justice online has been
around for decades, probably since the first lawyer connected to a modem. The
promised benefits of consistency, widened access to justice and reduced costs
make the prospect too tantalising to ignore for Governments and practitioners
worldwide. Our own President, Professor Richard Susskind has been a perceptive
advocate on the issue for over 20 years now.

Yet translating vision into reality has been slow and sometimes
painful, almost as painful as a Brexit negotiation. A recently published
report exemplifies
the problems. Professor Roger Smith’s annual update, funded by the Legal
Education Fund, surveys the progress of online courts and technology around the
world with a view to how such initiatives have helped people on low incomes get
access to justice.

This year, Professor Smith, though filled with optimism for
the long-term, sadly relays news of the demise (or at least mothballing) of two
high profile projects: the Dutch Rechtwijzer online dispute resolution project
and the Australian Government’s Nadia, a Cate Blanchett voiced legal chatbot.
Both were thought to be pioneering examples of the use of technology in the
courts but seem to have proven either unworkable or unaffordable (or both) at
the moment.

Then last week the Commons Public Accounts Committee voiced
their anxieties over our own HMCTS modernisation programme. A key criticism
outlined in the report was that there is a failure to articulate clearly what
the transformed justice system would look like. Again the problem is
translating a gleaming vision into a battle hardened reality. We all think we
will get there but the path is not clear. So the challenge is to articulate
that vision.

All of which brings me to the announcement last week that we
are to host, in conjunction with our own HMCTS, the first International Forum
on Online Courts on 3 and 4th December in London. We want this to be one of the
ways that we respond to the criticisms of those MPs, and not just here but in
other jurisdictions around the world.

Unsurprisingly the event is largely the brainchild of the
inspirational Richard Susskind himself, who will co-chair alongside HMCTS Chief
Executive, Susan Acland-Hood. It will gather policy-makers, court officials,
judges, lawyers and senior academics from around the world with the stated
intention of facilitating exchanges of best practice and some of the lessons
learned and act as a foundation for the building of a community for those
involved in major digital court reform.

The SCL is proud to be able to support this important
initiative and, of course, we want our members to add their voices to the
conversation so register your expression of interest for attending and / or
contributing on the SCL website here