The Master of the Rolls has said the government had “declined to promote” primary legislation needed to set up a single Online Court, covering civil, family and tribunal claims.
Instead the separate jurisdictions would remain, but be accessed by a single digital platform, backed by an online procedure rules committee. Sir Terence said this would also require primary legislation.
While waiting for it to arrive, he said a “shadow online procedure advisory group”, chaired by Mr Justice Langstaff, was considering appropriate rules for online dispute resolution generally, particularly regarding LiPs.
Referring to the Online Court pilot scheme being run by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the Master of the Rolls said it provided “significant benefits” for claimants and defendants, and court administration.
He said one “important” aspect that was being considered, but not yet implemented, was the “facilitation of settlement” of online claims.
“At present, claimants and defendants are informed online, when completing their claim or defence, that they can settle the case by agreement. They are also informed of the availability of mediation services.
“It would not be a large step for a court officer to intervene online or by telephone to facilitate settlement. A more sophisticated way of achieving this might be through some software programme which would provide a structured framework online to assist the parties to reach a compromise.”
Sir Terence said online dispute resolution processes needed to be embedded into the practices and procedures of the Online Court.
He said the judiciary was yet to decide on what kinds of “routine civil work” in the county court would be taken over by case officers.
“It is envisaged that some of these may be legally qualified and others may not. It is still a matter for decision precisely what tasks they will carry out and where, in the court buildings or in the service centres.
“The judiciary will be heavily involved in that decision. What is agreed and clear is that, insofar as they are undertaking any work bearing on dispute resolution, they will be under judicial supervision and control.”
Earlier this month, it was reported wthat the judiciary threatened to withdraw from the Online Court pilot if there were “any further false claims or data” about the project from HMCTS.
The pilot, for money claims under £10,000, has move dfrom invitation-only to ‘public beta’ stage since this report.