On 18th October I attended the CCUA (Civil Courts Users Association) annual conference and listened to a very interesting presentation about the Online Court by DJ Lethem, who has been part of the working group.
He advised that there will be four stages to the new ‘Civil Resolution Court’ (online court) which will deal with claims below £25,000.
Litigants in person
There is significant emphasis to help litigants in person and it is likely that there will be a new CPR specifically for the Online Court which would only have 10-15 rules, instead of the 80 plus rules within the current County Court system.
Use of technology
The Court will also look to make use of technology, potentially using email and text messages to keep parties in the loop, such as a reminder to file a defence, thereby reducing the number of judgments by default.
The case will be accessible online for both creditor and debtor, so each will be able to see how the case is progressing and view any evidence, documents or correspondence that have been submitted.
The four stages of the Online Court
Stage 0 - pre-issue conduct
This covers the pre-action requirements such as a letter before action. However, it is intended that the Online Court will not face the same criteria currently being set out for the pre-action protocol for claims. Lethem inferred that it will be a simpler and easier route to a claim.
Stage 1 - making the claim
Both creditors and debtors will complete an online decision tree, answering questions that then direct them to the next branch depending on their answer. The idea of this is to produce a clear and coherent claim and defence for the court to then consider.
Some of the judges' more routine and non-contentious work will be transferred to new, legally trained, case officers who will manage the claims, under the supervision of a judge where necessary.
Stage 2 - alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
There will likely be a form of compulsory mediation to see if the case can be resolved before going to court for a decision (judgment).
Stage 3 - decision (judgment)
This will either be made by a judge, or by the case officers in simpler matters.
Lethem confirmed that a ‘single entry point for enforcement’ is required and there is an appetite to have automatic enforcement if a judgment remains unpaid.
The intention is that much of this will be implemented by 2020, although I do think that might be somewhat optimistic. I am concerned that certain aspects, especially enforcement, will again be rushed through without enough thought.
Whilst much of what has been said makes sense there is still a lot that needs to be considered carefully. It is clear that the judicial system needs dragging into the 21st century, especially in terms of technology and the way it interacts with all parties, and this is something that is welcomed.
I do have concern at what appears to be a move away from proper legal advice before submitting a claim and will watch with interest the scope of the proposed use of case officers.
In terms of enforcement, I for one would like to see a simpler system and one that gives favour to the creditor rather than the continual changes over the years that erode the creditor’s ability to recover what they are owed.
David is the CEO of The Sheriffs Office.