Those of us who have the misfortune of dealing with the County Courts system in England and Wales will know that the changes over the last few years to modernise and make the system more efficient have done anything but that. The costs to use the system go up and the quality of service goes down. Trying to get anything done quickly through any Court, but particularly the County Court Business Centre or the County Court Money Claims Centre can, at times, be like pulling teeth.
But hurrah! Lord Justice Briggs has recently issued an interim report on his Civil Courts Structure Review. But what are the chances that these proposed changes will be for the better and not simply another short-sighted cost cutting exercise?
The Online Court
The main item of interest for those of us who deal with money claims in the County Court is the proposed creation of an Online Court. Indeed it is “the single most radical and important structural change with which this report is concerned”. The point of it is that it will be a court for use by litigants in their own homes without lawyers. A lot of new IT is going to be needed if this has a hope of succeeding and LJ Briggs advises that it will only be used, at least initially, for simple and modest value disputes. Simple. It is a funny word. Something that is simple to one person might be wildly complicated to another. I find using my iPhone simple. My Dad not so much. I can guide you through a claim in the County Court. My Dad not so much (he is retired now but he used to analyse bits of dead people for a living. Weird, I know). Therefore, would my Dad want to do his own money claim online regardless of how simple or modest LJ Briggs thinks it is?! Not so much!
The current trend seems to be to try to make things cheaper for people by taking the lawyers out of the equation. However, like with anything in life, cheaper is not always better. How many mistakes have been made by people doing their will or conveyancing using a cheap online service instead of seeking help from their friendly local law firm?
I understand that people want to avoid fat cat lawyers who will rip off clients left, right and centre but some of us are not fat and only say ‘meow’ when under duress. Some of us want to help clients as much as possible at the best price possible to get the best result possible.
Leaving people to their own devices in LJ Briggs’ online court will lead to a huge amount of cases falling flat due to litigants in person not actually knowing what to do, not knowing if they have a good case or not and good claims falling down due to a lack of knowledge of the processes and law which are essential to being successful.
It is time that changes to the court system stop leading people away from lawyers. Lawyers are here to give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience to make sure you get the right advice and right result.
Beware the online Court!