Rise Of Digital Courts Set To Continue

The man behind the government’s efforts to modernise UK courts says even ageing judges who once feared change in the courtroom are now embracing digital technology.

After successfully being introduced in the criminal courts, civil and family proceedings and tribunals are next in line to be given a hi-tech makeover.

Senior presiding judge for England and Wales Lord Justice Fulford predicts that one day all court business will be conducted online except cases where personal appearances are absolutely necessary.

Hailing the progress already made, Lord Fulford said: “Some of my criminal judicial brothers and sisters expressed strong early scepticism.

“The remarkable phenomenon is that quite elderly, technologically challenged judges who vowed they would never touch a keyboard in court are now working entirely digitally with skill and enthusiasm.

“Already, the paper processes of yesteryear feel quite ridiculous and outmoded. My hope is that over the next few years the response of the professions and all others who work in our courts will be the same.”

Changes to the criminal system introduced two years ago include more pre-trial work being done online or by phone. Lord Fulford believes the time when witnesses and experts will give evidence from home using video technology is not far off.

Young witnesses or those considered at risk of intimidation are already able to record evidence in advance and the judge says there is no reason this can not be extended to other groups.

The Social Security and Child Support Tribunal (SSCS) is set to become entirely digital and potentially paper-free.

Next, solicitors will be given access to a fully digital platform to carry out family procedures such as divorces and nullities as part of the “Divorce Project”, with a prototype system already up and running.

“There is strong evidence that jurisdictions that do not regularly hold formal hearings have achieved high levels of approval,” Lord Fulford told the Bond Solon expert witness conference.

“We need to ensure that the hearing in court is necessary and is proportionate for the nature of the dispute.”

However, the judge acknowledged the danger that the advance of online justice could lead to a loss of transparency and insisted new ways must be found to avoid throwing a “cloak of secrecy” over proceedings.

And he said it is vital that issues concerning individual rights should always be made by human judges.

“Perhaps all of us professionals who rather enjoy our jobs need to hope that the new digital systems…do not render us entirely redundant,” he added. “We may ultimately be fighting the rise of the robotic court.”

James PritchardJames Pritchard, a personal injury specialist at Macks Solicitors, welcome the judge’s speech.

“Because of recent reforms there are more litigants in person than ever before,” he said. “I have personally found that courts are taking longer and longer to perform work which used to be fairly fast – it’s now fairly common to receive a court order with a deadline that has already passed by the time it arrives. “Embracing technology is one way courts can help address these issues and it will be even more vital in the future. It’s pleasing to hear that the judiciary are aware of the challenges and are doing exactly that.”

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