Following his interim report which we reported on in March, Lord Justice Briggs has set out more details of his proposed Online Court, which is intended for use by those making lower-value money claims.
The proposals include the creation of a new court with minimal rules, that is insulated from the CPR. It is aimed at "the silent unrepresented community of individuals and small businesses which wouldn’t sensibly use the Civil Court for modest value disputes".
Briggs LJ noted that the initially proposed ceiling of £25,000 may need to be reduced to £10,000 to make sure it works and get past its first generation teething troubles.
The system will have a 'permeable membrane' so that cases which are too complicated, or too important, despite the low value, can be transferred up into the County / High Court system.
Planning for the court has already begun. The government has set aside £736m to overhaul the courts, and part of this fund will be used to set up the online court.
The following three stage process has been proposed:
- Automated triage process to help litigants in person articulate their disputes and upload their documents in a way that enables the Court to deal with it, which will bypass lawyers.
- Conciliation (in a form to be determined).
- Determination by Judges, where the parties cannot resolve it for themselves.
In a change of approach, Briggs noted that there will be a limited element of fixed costs on top of the ordinary recovery of disbursements only, with additional costs for misconduct. It is hoped this will encourage litigants to obtain early bespoke advice by a qualified lawyer on the merits of their case.
The system may be backed by a Contingency Legal Aid Fund, providing financial assistance for lawyers who provide unbundled services and direct access, rather than the traditional 'cradle to grave' retainer.
The above will require a revolution in public legal education, in order to provide litigants with the requisite knowledge. California and British Columbia are cited as jurisdictions leading the way in this area.