Lord Kerr, the Supreme Court justice, is leading an initiative to improve the use of technology at the court and cut down on paper, it has emerged.
The president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, said it would “obviously be beneficial if we could go paperless”, but Lord Kerr, the only justice from Northern Ireland, was also the only one who “gets close in that connection”.
Lord Neuberger went on: “Lord Kerr is also helping to make sure that we do not sit on our laurels. He is chairing a committee of three justices to try and see whether we can cut down the amount of paper in most cases and do more on screen.
“We are also examining the possibility of greater use of video links, which would save parties time and money.”
Lord Neuberger also said that “courts should not balk at the idea of changing their procedures to enable maximum efficiency for new IT systems”.
In a speech to the Northern Ireland Assembly committee for justice, he said the Supreme Court had installed a “very effective IT system” two years ago, and had learnt “a number of lessons” from the experience.
“First, if at all possible, get an off-the-shelf system, as we did second time round. Seductive though they may be, bespoke systems, such as we had first time round, are expensive, time consuming and much more likely to fail.
“Off-the shelf systems have been rigorously stress-tested, whereas the same cannot be true of bespoke systems. Secondly, and connected with the first point, as we discovered from our successive experiences, even courts should not balk at the idea of changing their procedures to enable maximum efficacy for new IT systems.
“Of course this does not mean that courts should be prepared to sacrifice any practice which supports or facilitates the rule of law. But the notion that IT always has to be designed to fit working practices, and working practices should never be adjusted to fit with IT is wrong.”
Lord Neuberger said careful attention to working practices was “absolutely necessary” when acquiring or designing an IT system, and it was “important to encourage everyone, especially judges” to use the systems once they were installed.
On the “vexed question of access to justice in an age of austerity”, Lord Neuberger said lawyers had to “face the fact that we are in something of a perfect storm”.
Echoing the words of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, he said: “Legal services are increasingly very expensive and increasingly unaffordable to ordinary people. At the same time, government money to support the courts and legal aid is in very short supply.”
He said the government was “proposing to make available a large sum of money to overhaul both the physical and the electronic infrastructure of the courts”, which would result in “fewer, but larger and more modern” court buildings across the UK.