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Let public access courts through smartphones, says Lord Chief Justice

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Top judge backs mobile ‘optimised’ hearings

There is no reason why litigants of the future should not be able to attend court through an app on their smartphone, the Lord Chief Justice has suggested.

Speaking at the first international forum on online courts this morning, Lord Burnett of Maldon trumpeted the benefits of digital justice in helping improve access to justice. He told 200 judges, academics and legal experts gathered at DLA Piper‘s London office this morning that technology had come on “leaps and bounds” over the last 20 years and that courts need to be willing to learn from the developments.

The Lord Chief Justice referenced Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes, a book written by academics Ethan Katsh and Orna Rabinovich-Einy, and the concept of a “smartphone court”. Appearing to lend his support to the idea, Burnett said:

“But why not? There is no reason why our forms, processes, and perhaps even some hearings should not be optimised for smartphones giving litigants effective access to justice from the palm of their hand. That facility is being developed in England and Wales. There is no reason why our online courts and justice systems cannot deliver effective and accessible justice direct to the citizen.”

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Burnett, who last year broke with tradition and delivered his first public speech as the judiciary’s head honcho via YouTube, continued:

“In putting it that way, may I reiterate my strong belief, which I know is shared by many: the citizen, the users of our courts, must be at the heart of the design process. We must ensure that modernisation is ‘user-centred’ in design and default, as much as it is digital by design and default.”

The forum is being hosted jointly by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Society for Computers and Law (SCL), a charity focused on the development of IT-related law.

Burnett, a former Temple Garden Chambers barrister, became the youngest Chief Justice in over 50 years when he scooped the top role last summer at the sprightly age of 59.

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