“The first virtual court case has been held with a claimant appearing via a home laptop camera, while an extremely patient judge sat in a London tribunal and lawyers presented evidence from Belfast”, so says the Guardian newspaper heralding the new era of technologically advancement in the Ministry of Justice.
I can feel the cynicism of the lawyers who deal with the courts daily even as the achievement is announced.
This hearing was and is part of a new pilot by the MOJ in an effort to modernise. It allows for those not located next to a court to be able to deal with matters without the need for extensive travel. As a principle it cannot be faulted and if it is true that £1billion is to be spent on it, all well and good.
Actually, the ability to deal with things without attendance at court is well established. I have had clients give evidence by video link and prisoners do it all the time. However, the court system itself it not exactly set up for this and at one point the High Court in London could only arrange this through the one court room which had facilities. It was a logistical nightmare arranging any video link.
If the courts are to update their technology then those who deal with them day in and day out would be delighted. Take the current issue that if you email some judges at the court you can only attach so many documents to the email. Don’t think about pdf type documents. Sometimes they can be opened and sometimes not. It can be hit and miss as to whether the judge gets it, can open it, has the time to print it out if she or he so wishes and indeed in any event has a file in which to put it.
I have lost count of the number of hearings at the High Court where the judge indicates that they received the email but they could do very little with it since some of the documents would not open or could not be read.
Or the black hole which is the Court IT system where you email but no response is received. It is not clear whether it ever reached its destination so solicitors end up doing what the court specifically does not want – sending it all in paper form again.
Most lawyers want more technology. I am quite happy to deal with matters by email and telephone if it saves me waiting for half an hour in a draughty corridor with my opponent to discuss matters with a judge which are already agreed and can be resolved without wasting time.
Moreover, when most firms have accounts for court fees with the court service – why is it that some applications still need to be sent in paper form? Why can they not be emailed and the fee deducted from the account? It isn’t as if they need a cheque physically.
Before the MOJ starts with the cases involving tax and finance, perhaps they could start with the basics. The ordinary claimants who have smaller but nonetheless important cases in front of their local courts. Perhaps we could have some investment in technology which means we can deal with most issues by email. Perhaps documents could arrive on time and be accessible to the person who must read them and decide upon them. Perhaps someone physically does not have to attend the court two or three times a week simply to drop off or collect paper documents which surely must be capable of electronic transfer.
Technology is great. Investment in it by the MOJ is to be applauded. How about using the funds for the vast majority of the people actually using the court to reduce costs, waste less time and run a system fit for the century we are in?