Online courts: what will they look like?

Mark O'Conor, the SCL Chair, looks at recent developments in online justice and looks forward to an exciting event in which SCL is very much involved

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

Published: 2018-07-31T18:00:00

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