Online court services: delivering a more efficient digital justice system

The government’s digitisation of the courts is adding to the delays plaguing the civil court system and undermining people’s access to justice when they need it most, our research finds.

While we support a modernised court service, reforms must not come at the expense of justice.

In summer 2023, we surveyed over 700 solicitors who’ve used three new online portals for courts and tribunals:

  • probate services
  • damages claims
  • family public law

Our survey has uncovered the extent of technical issues with the system and the impact of these on the delivery of justice.

Download the report (PDF 986 KB)

“Despite HM Courts and Tribunals Services’ (HMCTS) good intentions to modernise the court system via their online portals, our findings show that more than half of solicitors surveyed do not believe the portals are efficient and effective in delivering justice,” said Law Society President Nick Emmerson.

Our research found that, rather than supporting the delivery of a more efficient justice system, online portals are associated with delays:

  • 62% of respondents experienced delays in court proceedings, which had emotional and financial impacts on clients,
  • 34% reported increased costs which have been passed on to clients

The online portals have also impacted solicitors and their firms in terms of additional fees, time, costs, personal stress and reputation.

Factors contributing to delays, which were found across the three portals, were:

  • timeliness issues
  • communication issues
  • technical issues
  • staff resource
  • level of experience of staff
  • lack of access to adequate training

Next steps

As HMCTS enters the final stages of its court reform programme, we believe the following proposals can help the government resolve these issues and make an online justice system that is fit for purpose, and which works for the public and legal professionals.

HMCTS should focus on:

Thinking ahead for our justice system’s future

This research has helped us come up with some fresh ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will enhance access to justice in the long term and could save the system £72 million over a five-year period.

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