Tánaiste and Justice Minister Francis Fitzgerald recently announced that a review group, to be led by High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly, will consider measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Irish legal system in the area of civil justice.
One of the aims of the review is to "remove obsolete, unnecessary or over-complex rules of procedure". Given that the system of civil justice at present is primarily derived from the Judicature (Ireland) Act, from 1877, it is likely that the review could lead to quite a significant overhaul. Mr Justice Kelly drafted the recently implemented Rules of the Superior Courts on the conduct of trials and was instrumental in the adoption and practice of the Commercial Court Rules in 2004. This review group can be seen as a continuation of his enthusiastic efforts to streamline the litigation process.
Chief among the issues for consideration by this group will be the use of electronic communications technology – particularly e-filing and e-litigation systems. E-filing is already the norm in the US, Canada, Australia, across the EU and in International Courts. The UK High Court will switch over completely to an e-filing system when term-time resumes on 25 April 2017, from which point on it will no longer be possible to file hard copy documents.
Singapore is the trailblazer in this area. Singapore introduced its first e-filing system as early as 1997 and it became mandatory in 2000. The Singapore courts now operate through a comprehensive e-Litigation service, which includes: e-filing; e-service, via which documents can be digitally served on other law firms; SMS and email notifications whenever there is an update in a case; a case information repository; and features for scheduling hearing dates. The efficiencies of this system are very real: an IP case in the Singapore Supreme Court with a projected printing load of 252,000 pages was reduced to a mere 3,000, saving approximately $40,000. The advantages for the Irish system are manifold: documents can be filed and retrieved remotely and instantly by litigants and their legal teams, saving time, money and paper. Solicitors receive notices, orders and judgments electronically, as soon as they are available. Documents can be accessed instantly and at any time. Clients will invariably be able to save on some of the costs involved in litigation. Given the Government's recent commitments to improving the efficiency of the courts, it seems only a matter of time before e-filing is introduced into the Irish legal system.