International Forum on Online Courts: embracing the future
With the launch in London this week of the First International Forum on Online Courts we reflect on progress in the £1 billion reform programme for the courts service.
The investment in the Government- led online court programme follows the Review of Civil Court Structures, led by Lord Justice Briggs, which began in 2015
The objective of the programme is to create the online court: easily accessible digital court services that allow cases to be commenced and resolved entirely online. This has meant embracing an ‘agile’, digital agency style approach to development - one that puts end users at the heart of an iterative development process.
The most referenced part of the programme has been the Money Claims initiative for low value money claims below £25,000. This Litigant in Person system is to be extended to include an online negotiation and settlement tool. A number of other online court ‘products’ are also now in the process of being rolled out. These include:
- The Common Platform Programme, which provides a unified platform across the criminal justice system to allow the Crown Prosecution Service and courts to more effectively manage cases. A system to host ‘virtual hearings’ is being tested by police in the South East to allow defendants to appear before magistrates through a video link.
- A digital paperless sentencing system to manage fare evasion on Transport for London services. The same system is due to be extended to TV Licensing and DVLA cases.
- A mechanism to allow divorce applicants to resolve uncontested cases fully.
- An online probate application process.
- A digitised adoption process for both public and private law cases.
- Online tracking of social security and child support appeals in tribunals.
- Virtual hearings for immigration and asylum case management.
- An online service for appeals against decisions on personal independence payments. More than 2,600 applications were received during the trial, with the number of appeals rejected because of errors in paperwork falling by 45%.
But, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Access to justice warnings have been issued on a number of occasions, including by the Bar Council and charitable bodies like Transform Justice. Concerns have also been raised about sufficient online infrastructure and reliable connections, including during the testing of virtual online hearings.
It is perhaps inevitable that for a project of this scale, there will always be hurdles to cross – of both an ethical and technical nature.
Read our follow-up report of the forum: Online courts: a report on the first International Online Courts Forum