This week the Civil Justice Council recommended the creation of an online court to deal with claims worth up to £25,000 in England and Wales following the recent publication of the report of the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Advisory Group.
The report of the ODR Advisory Group can be found here.
The Civil Justice Council set up the ODR Advisory Group in April 2014 under the chairmanship of Professor Richard Susskind. The Group's Report highlights concerns that, for low-value claims, the current system is too costly, slow and complex, especially for party litigants.
The Report recommends that a new internet-based court service known as HM Online Court (HMOC) is established which will be more accessible, quicker and cost-effective for both court users and the court system. It is intended that HMOC would be a three-tier service. Tier one, "dispute avoidance", would provide online evaluation whereby grievances are categorised and parties are made aware of their rights, obligations and available remedies. Tier two, "dispute containment", would provide online facilitation, seeking to conclude disputes without judicial involvement through providing online facilitators to review disputes and ease parties through mediation and negotiation. Tier three, "dispute resolution", would see judges decide cases online following a process of online pleading. Online judges would have discretion to refer cases to the conventional court system and decisions reached would be subject to the same rights of appeal as conventional court judgments.
In forming its recommendations, the report looked at similar systems offered in the Netherlands, Canada and on eBay.
Every year, some 60 million disagreements amongst traders on eBay are resolved using ODR. In eBay's system, online negotiation is encouraged in the first instance, before a member of eBay's staff determines an outcome following the presentation of arguments by both parties.
The ODR system in the Netherlands assists parties in dispute resolution through problem diagnosis, framing of the case through question and answer sessions, problem solving, and numerous types of alternative dispute resolution which will proceed if parties cannot themselves resolve their case. Finally, an independent lawyer may become involved to reach a resolution. The service is currently only available for matrimonial disputes, although there are plans to extend its availability further.
An online tribunal, the Civil Resolution Tribunal, is due to be launched in Canada this summer. It will be made available in small claims cases as an alternative to traditional courts. The tribunal will operate in several stages during which possible solutions will be explored and initial attempts made to resolve the case by alternative dispute resolution. If this is unsuccessful, an adjudicator will become involved and reach a decision.
Some online resolution systems are already available in the UK. Examples include the "distance" services provided by the Financial Ombudsman for resolving disputes between consumers and financial businesses, and the service run by the domain name registry company Nominet, where claims regarding abusive domain names are initially pursued via an online form.
Chairman of the Civil Justice Council and Master of the Rolls the Rt Hon Lord Dyson has backed the report, stating that online dispute resolution "is an area with enormous potential for meeting the needs of the system and its users in the 21st Century". He is also of the belief that ODR will "broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply".
The ODR Advisory Group recommended that the proposed service be piloted, with an anticipated launch date of 2017.
Will Scotland be next to consider moving civil justice online?