The Court Service is seeking comments on radical proposals for e-filing in the civil and family courts. Graham Smith of Bird & Bird explains.
The Court Service (HMCS) has released the results of a study, conducted by PA Consulting and available in summary form here, on the feasibility of e-filing and document management in the civil and family courts based on a commercial model used in some parts of the USA and Australia. HMCS is seeking feedback from stakeholders (including the legal profession) on what would be, were it introduced, an extremely significant development in modernising the English civil and family courts.
The Trustees of the SCL have asked me to prepare a response to the feasibility study on behalf of the SCL, to be considered by the Trustees and then delivered to HMCS by 31 March 2006. To assist in this I would very much like to receive comments from SCL members.
The background against which this study has taken place is that the civil justice system has for years been the poor relation when it comes to securing tax funding for improvements, including for IT, to the courts. Unlike the criminal justice system, which has over the years been allocated many hundreds of millions of pounds for IT projects, the civil justice system limps along on scraps of funding dropped from the Treasury's table. Hence the interest in ways of introducing IT to the civil courts that do not require the Treasury to loosen its purse strings.
At the same time there is a growing commercial market in court e-filing systems provided and operated wholly by commercial vendors, both with and without associated court document management systems available to the parties, and funded by user transaction fees.
The feasibility study included visits by a team from PA, the judiciary, the DCA and the Law Society to three US court systems operating various e-filing and document management systems, both commercial and non-commercial.
PA's headline conclusions are that a commercial model for EFDM (Electronic Filing and Document Management) is feasible. It is a high risk initiative, but the risks can be ameliorated. PA recommend that the Court Service takes action to begin the business case work immediately. They suggest that EFDM starts in courts dealing with high value/complexity cases with high levels of documentation; that it begins as a voluntary service with the intention that it quickly become mandatory for non-litigant in person users; and that consideration be given to starting with e-filing, moving on to court document management and an electronic case record. They suggest that the earliest that EFDM implementation could begin would be 2008.
The PA study reports broadly positive support from the legal profession, but recommends further consultation. HMCS is particularly interested to know the views of the various parts of the profession on the following questions:
Please submit any comments on these issues to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 10 March.
The results of the PA study are available by clicking here (to access the summary). The address to send any comments directly to HMCS is Gillian.Birkbeck@DCA.GSI.GOV.UK.
Graham Smith is a Partner at Bird & Bird.