The direction of travel for civil justice

“An efficient debt recovery system can be the difference between solvency and insolvency for literally thousands of consumers and SMEs.”
The Right Hon Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls

On 28th January 2021, The Right Hon Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, gave a speech about the direction of travel for civil justice at a Law Society webinar on civil justice and law tech.

We have pulled out some of the key points from his speech which will impact on creditors and solicitors with regards to debt recovery and judgments.

Single integrated system and data set

His vision is a single integrated system, with one point of entry that is then able to direct the claimant through the most appropriate journey for their requirements.

Data is fundamental to the achievement of this – a single data set for each case/dispute that goes throughout the entire system, regardless of the journey it takes.

Not only will this single data set enable a seamless journey through the system, it will also provide the civil justice system with essential data on timescales, outcomes, the effect of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and local variations.

It will also provide invaluable information to inform usage forecasts as the reforms to make the system more accessible are implemented. With the current paper-based system, such forecasts are very difficult to make.

Integrated dispute resolution

Integrated and accessible dispute resolution, that can then flow into an online court process if necessary, is a fundamental component of his vision.

Sir Geoffrey would like to see an ADR system that can detect when a case is most susceptible to resolution and can offer the most effective meditated intervention at that point. He commented on how effective eBay’s AI (artificial intelligence) dispute resolution system is.

He also states that there will need to be an overhaul of CPR (civil procedure rules) to provide the necessary level of governance to manage this online judicial system. The current CPR has, in his opinion, become complex and inaccessible over time.

How will this help UK plc?

Pre-covid, there were 2 million claims a year, of which 1.6 million were for money and 130,000 for possession.

The Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC) pilot for claims by litigants in person of up to £10,000 has been successful and the Online Possessions Claims will launch later in 2021.

The existing Money Claims Online (claims up to £100,000) currently accounts for 1.3 million cases out of the 1.6 million and the existing Possession Claims Online for 100,000 of the 130,000 possession cases.

We can only deduct from these statistics that there is undoubtedly an appetite for such portals amongst litigants, who seem likely to welcome the proposed reforms to the technology of the civil justice system.

Sir Geoffrey does state that Business and Property cases will move into this online single system once the necessarily more complex online systems to handle them have been developed.

Still a key role for lawyers

He also said that lawyers must not fear these changes – there will continue to be larger and more intractable problems that will require their skills and experience. He also believes that court hearings, court houses and judges will survive.

From an enforcement perspective, we welcome more cases being resolved prior to the point that enforcement is required. Sadly, there will still be those who won’t pay that will require enforcement action.

In summary

Sir Geoffrey’s vision is that a case is started online, with a single transferable data set, online resolution and, where required, progress through the most efficient judicial resolution process. You can read the full speech online.

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