The Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council, a group established on 25 April 2014 and led by Professor Richard Susskind (IT Advisor to the Lord Chief Justice), has proposed radical changes to the court system of England and Wales, including the introduction of a new, Internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC) for civil disputes of value less than £25,000.

The HMOC would not fundamentally change the court’s underlying process and procedures, but would allow the courts to enable the delivery of services in entirely new ways, leading to an increase in access to justice and substantial savings in the cost of the court system.   ODR would not involve a traditional courtroom.  Rather, the dispute resolution process would be handled across the Internet, with ODR systems providing facilities for judges, mediators and negotiators to handle disputes by communicating electronically with parties and reviewing documents in digital form.

The ODR Advisory Group’s report acknowledges that its recommendations may appear rather alien to legal practitioners, but insists that ODR is not science fiction.  Rather, it seeks to ask query whether the status quo of congregating physically in a court building to resolve our differences is still necessary in the age of technological advancement.  It points out that courts have a great deal of catching up to do with other areas of business and Government.

The recommendation of the ODR Advisory Group is that a three tier system be implemented, comprising Dispute Avoidance (an online information and diagnostic service), Dispute Containment (access to online facilitators) and Dispute Resolution (access to online judges).  The Group calls for piloting as soon as is practicable, in consultation with the legal profession and consumer groups.

See the ODR Advisory Group’s full proposals.