England and Wales could experience one of the biggest shake-ups to their legal system in history if a radical new plan to digitise services is embraced, opening up the prospect of justice being delivered by email rather than gavel.
Plans drawn up by the Civil Justice Council recommend dispensing with the formality and expense of courtroom hearings in favour of online judges and internet hearings in a new branch of the court system.
This would see judges weigh up cases at their desks through either email or telephone before dispensing justice for financial claims of less than £25k, although the system could be extended to certain family court cases.
Designed to ease the burden on hard pressed court rooms the initiative would be known as Her Majesty’s Online Court, modelled on eBay’s Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) system.
The plans have already won the backing of Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, who wrote in a foreword to the report: “At a time of major pressure on public spending and high legal costs, ODR offers a major opportunity to help many people for whom public funding to resolve disputes is not available, or for whom legal costs are prohibitive.
“ODR is also in harmony with wider changes in society, in particular the advances in technology and the large scale use of online services to transact all forms of business.”