LSLA and Bar Report on Technology in the Civil Courts

January 1, 2004

The Working Group’s report deserves more publicity than it has received, although it is no doubt being taken seriously by those with the power to influence decisions. Some of its recommendations are highlighted below.

Electronic Issue of Proceedings and Applications

As regards this topic, the Working Group’s recommendations included the following:

· “We believe practitioners would find it extremely helpful to be able to issue the widest possible range of proceedings remotely, ie we believe that there should not be restrictions, as with Money Claim On-line, as to court, amount of claim, description of claim (by restricting characters), number of defendants, or jurisdiction”. A similar recommendation is made in relation to applications.

· There needs to be “a stress on the necessity of being able to pay for issue by some means of electronic payment at the time of issue and of being given proof of such payment”.

· Some form of automatic acknowledgment of issue online electronically is required so that there is proof of the fact of issue.

· Practitioner should be able to serve proceedings and proceedings issued on-line themselves without relying on the court to effect service

Communication by E-mail

The Working Group mentioned “practitioner agreement that it was an important step for practitioners/ parties to be able to communicate with the Court by e-mail on as many issues as possible as quickly as possible”. They cite the fact that 50% of LSLA respondents believe that it would be very important to their practice to communicate with the court by e-mail, with 46.55% stating it is quite important. The Working Group goes on to say that the courts had to ensure that there were sufficient practices and procedures in place so that they could handle e-mail traffic; for example, by ensuring that the right documents, such as skeleton arguments, were delivered to the right person at the right time. They also recommend that there should be automatic acknowledgment of all e-mail.

Infrastructure and the Courts

The Working Group’s recommendations on infrastructure were unsurprising but forcefully expressed. It recommends “very strongly that the court must get the infrastructure right so that parties can bring technology to the courts and make it work in an easy and efficient way”. This means “that infrastructure in the court room, the meeting rooms in court buildings, in robing rooms and any “support rooms” must be absolutely right: all of these rooms must have adequate plugs, cables, data ports, and broadband connections and access to printers to allow the greatest possible use and flexibility of use for technology. This will allow e.g. drafting, agreement and printing of orders immediately after court, rapid and stable access to on-line legal research resources and document management resources (especially if scanned images have been stored) and rapid amendment of documents for submission to court”.

Other Recommendations

The Working Group also turned its attention to electronic payment of court fees, video conferencing, electronic case management and online access to legal materials.

They referred to their belief that there is a significant opportunity for technology to make the civil courts more accessible, much cheaper and much quicker for all users but “for that to be achieved the Court Service will need to focus on priorities, on the practical implications of the steps needed and on the benefit to those using the system as opposed to the comfort of those administrating it”. They reported a clear consensus that the two immediate priorities are infrastructure and communication by e-mail.