Earlier this year electronic filing became compulsory in all Rolls Building courts, namely the Business and Property Courts, for legal representatives only.
Whilst this development has been largely welcomed by the legal profession, the system itself is not without teething problems and it is important for any party utilising electronic working to familiarise themselves with the various procedures and be aware of the potential pitfalls.
Chapter 6 of the Chancery Guide sets out the procedure for electronic filing in the Chancery Division in London and whilst a number of district registries require parties to adhere to the prescribed practice, it is worth checking with the court in question what the preferred approach is.
All individual users must register for an account on the CE-file system. Anyone involved with High Court litigation should register in advance as this avoids potential delays or issues arising pending authorisation of the new account. Each new user is allocated a username and password. If it is anticipated that there will be more than one person involved with a specific claim within an organisation it is also sensible to have accounts set up for each individual, including administrative staff, in order to ensure that all relevant personnel can access the electronic case file. This also avoids problems arising if, for example, a user is temporarily locked out of the system whilst trying to process an urgent filing.
Once an account has been set up, users are able to comply with the requirement on legal representatives to file all documents (apart from original documents), in all courts in the Rolls Building. This applies to issuing proceedings, pre-action applications and filing documents in existing cases, regardless of whether the case was commenced electronically or not. Whilst litigants in person are encouraged to use e-filing wherever possible they currently still have the option of filing documents in hard copy.
There are specific requirements regarding the format of documents and the process of filing. If a document is in the incorrect format or not filed in the required way then it may be rejected. Users are informed via email, usually within an hour of the documents being submitted, however, no reasons are given in the notifying email and it is usually necessary to contact the court to ascertain the reason for rejection if it is not immediately apparent. For obvious reasons this is unsatisfactory, especially if the filing is time critical e.g. service of a defence, and it is therefore important for users to familiarise themselves with the CE-file system and its requirements in advance.
Specific points to note about the process include:
- All documents must be uploaded in Word or PDF format
- The maximum capacity for a document is 10MB. If a document is too large it must be uploaded in sections and a note made in the comments box
- It is also advisable to file covering letters or any exhibits separately in order to avoid the risk of rejection
- The standard form categories when filing do not necessarily accord with the document being filed, for example in cases where a party is making an application of an unusual nature. It is unlikely that the court will reject a filing purely on these grounds but it is good practice to make a note in the comments section highlighting the position
- Where a fee is required this may be paid using a debit/credit card
- Parties filing documents using CEfile should not duplicate filing the documents by another means unless directed to do so, for instance, bundles for applications hearings, directions hearings or trials. If an original document is required to be filed at the same time as issue of the claim form, the court will accept an electronic copy of the document but the original must then be lodged with the court within 48 hours
- Normal day to day communications with the court, such as sending in draft orders or dealing with case management issues, do not generally need to be filed and will generally be accepted by email, as may documents such as skeleton arguments and chronologies. The court may, in certain circumstances, accept other documents via email but permission must be obtained in advance
One important development to note is that non-parties who are registered can search and obtain available documents directly via an ‘office copy request’ function on payment of a small fee. The function will display a list of those documents which a non-party is entitled to request as an office copy, as set out under CPR 5.4C. Whilst such documents have always been available in theory, the new system makes them more accessible and readily available than ever before.
From a practical perspective, when filing a claim form with schedules it is worth considering whether to file the schedules as separate documents, due to the fact that whilst non-parties may obtain a copy of a statement of case they are not entitled to any attached documents.
The CE-file system also gives parties the option of requesting that documents are classified as confidential. On receipt, the court will review your request for your documents to be confidential. If accepted then the document/case will be highlighted in red. This confirms that the document/case is confidential, albeit this does not replace the need to make an application.
As highlighted above, the introduction of electronic filing has resulted in a more streamlined and efficient process. However, it is important that parties not yet involved with the system take steps to ensure that both they and their colleagues are familiar with its requirements.