Jackson Review: New Paper on IT in the Civil Courts

September 16, 2009

In response to the submission to the Jackson Review of Costs from CLAN (the Commercial Litigation Association), Lord Justice Jackson asked Tony Guise to expand upon the emphasis in that submission on the importance of having effective IT in use in the civil courts. That, of course raised the issue of what constituted ‘effective’ IT in this special context. Tony Guise has now sent a detailed briefing paper to Lord Justice Jackson, summarising the current state of information technology resources in the civil courts. The briefing also highlights the developments in other jurisdictions such as Austria, New York and Singapore.

The paper includes a call for increased integration of the ‘patchwork quilt’ that is the current IT system for the civil courts. There is a need, says the paper, for an effective oversight body and for a handful of developers, employed directly by Her Majesty’s Court Service, to implement the strategic decisions of that body. It is suggested that ITAC (Information Technology and the Courts Committee), suitably remodelled and with strengthened authority, might usefully provide the oversight required. The emphasis should be on the application of existing software packages in the civil court context rather than on the development of costly bespoke packages which can easily exacerbate the tendency towards a fragmented system which is inherent in aspects of the civil courts structure.

On more detailed points, the paper identifies the need to consider IT applications away from the usual high costs cases. It suggests that the very high real cost of 100,000 case file movements in county courts per day might be massively reduced by the sensible implementation of IT. It also looks at funding issues and asserts the view, which many may feel can scarcely be stated too often, that it is a fundamental obligation of the State to provide an effective justice system and that Treasury funding for the investment required to attain a more efficient system should flow from that obligation.

Tony Guise is Chairman of the Commercial Litigation Association and a past President of the London Solicitor’s Litigation Association. He was appointed in November 2003 to the Civil Justice Council’s Consultative Fees Panel to advise the Government. His paper credits input from a range of leading figures from the Bar and the solicitors’ profession, including SCL Trustee Clive Freedman. SCL and CLAN, working with the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar, are to organise a one-day conference in December which will seek to raise awareness of IT systems within the civil justice system.