Proposals for an online court, made in a comprehensive review of the structure of the civil courts in England and Wales, were given a cautious welcome by the Law Society of England and Wales today.
The Law Society supports modernisation of the justice system and is pleased that the root-and-branch review conducted by Lord Justice Briggs recognised the important role that solicitors will play in ensuring the success of the online court.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said:
'The final report on the online court indicates that IT may improve court efficiency. Importantly it also recognises the vital role solicitors will play in helping clients navigate the new system and ensuring that they are able to access justice.
'We are particularly pleased that Lord Justice Briggs has recommended that cost recovery should be possible and that, if a client wins their case, they will be able to recover the cost of their solicitor's fee for initial advice and legal expertise. This was a key recommendation made by the Law Society in its response to Lord Justice Briggs’ earlier report.'
The Law Society sounded a note of caution on the importance of ensuring online courts do not limit access to justice because of how they are configured.
Catherine Dixon said:
'It is vital that ordinary and vulnerable people using the online court are not prejudiced when claiming against large organisations
'Clarification is also needed about which claims will and will not be included as part of the online court.'
'Solicitors are ideally placed to support those who choose to use the online court, as they can advise at an early stage about the merits of the claim.'
'Solicitors can also help clients to understand and comply with procedural requirements, thereby speeding up the process and reducing cost.
'Ensuring that people can choose to use a solicitor when using the online court, and allowing for the cost of initial legal advice, will help ensure the new online court gains public confidence, is genuinely open and accessible and supports access to justice.'
Catherine Dixon explained:
'We welcome the efficiency savings that an online approach to civil justice could offer to lower value claims, but it is critical that legal advice remains available to help consumers navigate the online court.
'Not all court users are IT-savvy, and we will continue to work with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the judiciary to ensure the work to develop the online court does not inadvertently shut anyone out of the justice system, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.'
'The Law Society acknowledges the considerable work that Lord Justice Briggs and his team have put into this final report, and we look forward to continuing to work with the government and others on the modernisation of our justice system.'
Notes to editors
The Law Society made detailed submissions following the Interim Report, particularly focused on the way that an online court risked limiting access to justice for those most in need. The last thing we want to see is a two-tier justice system created, where those who cannot afford legal representation receive only 'budget' justice.
The Law Society of England and Wales is the independent professional body, established for solicitors in 1825, that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.
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