The District Court of NSW’s Strategic Plan for 2018-2021 recognised the integral role of technology in the Court’s operations and processes. The Court’s expressed goal was to implement a system for the earliest, most effective and efficient resolution of disputes, making use of innovating and efficient technology where possible. 

In furtherance of the Strategic Plan, the Online Court (the OLC) commenced for use in the District Court Judicial Registrar’s General List at Sydney on 31 October 2018. The OLC is said to be a virtual court room that is designed to minimise the cost and inconvenience of in-person in Court appearances by enabling parties to make online requests for orders.  

In essence it is a portal through which a represented party can make requests for directions, other parties can respond and the Court can communicate the orders made, with all communications available to all parties. 

The OLC is available to all legal practitioners who have an Online Registry account, accordingly it is not available for self-represented parties.

 Below is an overview of the OLC procedure: 

  • the OLC may only be used for issues that may be considered and determined by the Court
  • the OLC must not be used for communications solely between parties
  • parties must adhere to professional etiquette and courtesy in the OLC as they would during an in-person court appearance
  • requests for orders must be completed by 2pm, three business days prior to the next court date
  • counter requests must be completed by 6pm, three business days prior to the next court date
  • consents must be completed by 6pm, three business days prior to the next court date
  • parties must attend an in-person directions hearing in order to obtain a hearing date of five days or more
  • parties must continue to use the Online Registry to file documents and not the OLC and
  • a document should only be attached to an OLC Request if it is pertinent to that request.

Brave new world?

We all may have imagined a virtual courtroom making use of Skype or other video technology to avoid the dash down Castlereagh Street or the (pre-Civil Liability Act) crush for the lifts or the (pre-September 11) sprint up the fire stairs. But it was not to be, for the OLC is not ground breaking in its technology. It is significant more in terms of what it takes away and its transfer of administrative effort. 

The practical draw back of the OLC is the restriction of the communication to a request from one party and reply(s) from the other(s). Beyond that, there is little capacity in the interface to seek to be heard at the time of decision making on the miscommunications/misapprehensions of/by the responding party or indeed of the decision maker.

It can be time consuming and costly to address these matters after orders are made. Consider the position where the limitations of the OLC availability calendar results in a hearing date being allocated on an unavailable date. This is unlikely to happen in-person-in-Court but has happened in the OLC. Strictly, a motion would be required to vacate the hearing date.

It also transfers the data entry of orders away from the Registry and into the hands of the solicitors on the record.

Undoubtedly, legal practitioners will become more adept at anticipating and avoiding the traps as their use of the system matures and perhaps in time parties may achieve savings in time or cost, but what of the tangential or non-matter benefits of in-person-in-Court, such as:

  • the chance to meet your opponent face to face
  • the opportunity to raise and discuss other issues on an informal basis 
  • the learning opportunities of a long list and, probably most importantly 
  • the chance for young lawyers to appear and practice their advocacy.

Resources 

The Court will also be running information sessions this year, perhaps to facilitate just the type of question and answer interaction that the OLC removes. Those sessions are being conducted in person at John Maddison Tower.