Top judge calls for lawyerless courts

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By Katie King on

Bad news for law students


One the country’s most senior appeal judges has backed the creation of a new civil court — one where lawyers aren’t needed.

Lord Justice Briggs, deputy head of civil justice, has endorsed the creation of a cyber court where litigants can resolve their civil disputes online.

The use of technology in the courts and tribunals system is never far from the judiciary’s lips. In a report released today, the Lord Chief Justice went as far as to describe the modernisation of the courts and tribunals as the “key issue” of 2015.

But Oxford grad Briggs has gone one step further. His landmark review endorses an online court system to deal with civil claims worth up to £25,000, freeing courts from the “stranglehold of paper”. Family law cases – such as child custody disputes — will be excluded from these reforms.

Briggs — who describes the creation of a court in cyberspace as “essential and unavoidable” — recommends capitalising on new technology to benefit the court system, using the internet, video-conferencing, and conference calls where possible.

Taking a leaf out of prominent futurologist Richard Susskind’s book, Briggs proposes that the online court would work in three stages: identifying issues via an automated system, conciliation and case management by trained case officers, and finally the resolution of the case by a judge.

What do these proposals mean for lawyers?

Briggs describes the “fundamental objective” behind the online court as the creation of “a court for litigants without lawyers”.

The report has been welcomed by the Lord Chief Justice.

We’re sure wannabe lawyers will be up in arms about these proposals, and they’re not the only ones. Law Society president Jonathan Smithers commented:

[W]e have grave concerns that the proposed online court may exclude people’s ability to access legal advice for cases up to £25,000 in value.

He continued:

While the online court may not require advocacy, there will still be a need for legal advice to ensure that everyone, including the vulnerable, can access justice. We will strongly oppose any approach that reduces access to justice and results in justice in England and Wales only being available to those who can afford it.

The Judicial Office is now appealing for comments before the final report is completed.

Read the report in full below:

Lcj Report 2015-Final