The new Master of the Rolls today set out a vision for civil justice in England and Wales that will see all claims begun online, and many resolved online too.
Sir Geoffrey Vos, who took over earlier this month, said it was time to undertake “a fundamental generational reform of the civil justice system”.
This would not be a ‘big name’ review like the Woolf reforms – which 18 months Sir Geoffrey described as “inadequately revolutionary”.
Speaking at a virtual Law Society event this morning, the MR continued: “Things move too fast for them to be any longer of great value. I hope, however, that as head of civil justice, I will be able to establish a direction of travel for an online justice system, with sophisticated integrated ADR mechanisms.
“I am not so naïve as to think that all this can be created overnight, but I hope that, working alongside the professions, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS, we can create a firm vision of an online system that will benefit consumers, lawyers and SMEs alike.”
His vision was that all claimants would start their claims online, creating a single transferable data set that would be directed, according to the type of claim, to different resolution processes.
This would allow “vindication of their legal rights either within the online space or, for the most intractable cases that are not resolved by mediated interventions, by the most efficient possible judicial resolution process”.
An online system would be able to resolve “many more cases” without physical attendance at court.
“There will far greater transparency, better data, and access to justice. The economy will be truly lubricated by efficient debt and dispute resolution.”
Sir Geoffrey also highlighted the importance of building “continuous alternative dispute resolution” into the online system.
He also revealed that he was set to task the Civil Justice Council with reviewing the idea of making ADR compulsory, saying he was “fairly open-minded” about it.
The rules that governed the online system would need to provide “a higher level of governance than the current CPR”. This would be no bad thing, he explained, “because the CPR has become, over time, complex and inaccessible”.
Sir Geoffrey also expressed confidence that risks of bias through using algorithms could be overcome “provided there is judge-led governance”.
He stressed that judges and lawyers would be needed “as much as they are today to deal either in the online space or in remote or in person hearings with intractable issues of fact or difficult legal questions”.
Even though, in an age of ever more data, “factual issues may in time become more difficult to contest”, the judge said, questions of law “will always require judicial determination”.
He concluded by urging the legal profession to embrace reform. “The justice system cannot stand on the side-lines, whilst every other aspect of our population’s lives is transformed by technology.”