It will be the first of a series of pilots planned over the next three years that, once complete, will give effect to the government’s ‘Transforming our Justice System’ vision for the civil jurisdiction. The government wishes to make the court system more efficient and accessible and to embrace more modern technology.
The introduction of the Online Court will be an incremental process and each stage will be trialled and tested before moving to the next stage. HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will develop and build the IT for each stage of the Online Court.
For the first stage, up to 2000 claimants will be invited to use the service via HMCTS contact centres and possibly via Money Claims Online, Gov.uk or via advice centres and the Federation of Small Businesses.
It is anticipated that if 2000 claimants are invited this will result in approximately 400 claims going through the pilot.
The first release of the pilot will only apply to single users bringing a claim against another single user (and not for multi-party claims).
On receipt of the Notice of Claim the defendant will be invited to use the online service, with a facility to call a helpdesk if assistance is required.
There are certain rules which determine what claims are suitable for the pilot. For example, a claim will only be suitable if it is for a specified sum of money not exceeding £10,000 including interest, is not brought under the Consumer Credit Act 2006, or is not for personal injury.
There will be special rules for the new online procedure. These rules are intended to be short and simple and are aimed at the reasonably intelligent non-lawyer litigant in person.
Claims started using the pilot will be issued in the County Court Business Centre (CCBC) and will proceed at the CCBC under the pilot unless they are sent out of the pilot.
In order to start the claim, a claimant will have to submit an online claim form which sets out ‘all the details about their claim that they want to rely on to support their claim’ and which lists ‘any documents or other evidence that the claimant may want to rely on to support their claim’. The intention is that particulars of claim will be extracted from the claimant by way of a series of questions on the website, the answers to which will be used to populate the document.
Upon receipt of the claim, the court will serve the defendant by sending a printed version of the completed online claim form to the defendant at the postal address given for the defendant. It is also anticipated that the court will text and/or email the defendant to notify them of the claim, giving brief details of the claim, and the defendant will be given a code to login and view the full claim form.
The defendant will not be provided with a response pack, but will instead be provided with details for submitting an online response, and a telephone number to call if the defendant is unable to access the website.
Users who are unable to access the internet will be signposted to the existing paper service.
For the purpose of the Limitation Act 1980 and any other enactment, an online claim is ‘brought’ when it is received by the court’s computer system. The court will notify the claimant when it receives the online claim form. The intention is that the court IT system will automatically issue the claim on receipt of a submitted claim form, so that a claim is received and issued on the same date.
The pilot will be evaluated using Google analytics. User engagement at each stage of the claim process will be tracked to allow for improvements to be made. Users will also be asked to provide feedback. Call centre monitoring and complaint logs will also be used to evaluate the success of the pilot.
The creation of the Online Court represents a radical overhaul of the UK’s civil justice system. The hope and expectation on the part of government is that it will reduce costs and expand access to justice. The introduction of the Online Court will no doubt bring challenges, such as putting in place an IT infrastructure that is fit for purpose, and persuading defendants to elect to use the system as opposed to the traditional court system. There may eventually need to be an element of compulsion if the Online Court is to be a success.
There is no doubt that the Online Court is not merely the digitisation of an existing court, but an entirely new concept, albeit one that other countries such as Holland and Canada have already embraced.