On the 20th of November the Ministry of Justice, HM Courts & Tribunals Service, and the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk KC published a news story telling of their “Vision for the future of civil and family courts and tribunals”.
Unfortunately, the story gave little information as to what exactly this “vision” was, or how it would be achieved.
The story did explain that the government intended to “make it easier for people experiencing legal problems to access high quality information and support at the right time and in the right way”, and “to enable people to resolve their problems earlier and at less cost, for example through mediation or online dispute resolution … safe in the knowledge that if this is not successful, it will be straightforward to take the next step of seeking judicial determination through the courts or tribunals”.
All of this sounds very significant, but what will it mean in practice?
Thankfully, we have since been provided with a little more information.
A speech by the Lord Chancellor given on the day of the news story has since been published by the Ministry of Justice. In it we are given just a few more detail of what the ‘Vision’ actually means.
The Vision, it seems, is really to do with the early stages of dispute resolution: making sure that anyone needing the help of the law has access to proper advice, including regarding their options to resolve the dispute, such as mediation, thereby possibly avoiding what the Lord Chancellor described as “the acrimony and heartache that all too often accompanies contested litigation.”
And where mediation isn’t successful the new system will make it straightforward to take the next step of taking a case through the courts “by encouraging and building online and offline connections between different parts of the system”.
This new digital justice system will be underpinned and governed by an Online Procedure Rules Committee, which will provide governance and develop data standards for the system (obviously the new system will have to ensure that user’s data is kept safe).
The Lord Chancellor gave no indication as to when this new system will become a reality.
The Lord Chancellor is of course quite correct that it is essential that anyone with a family dispute should seek expert legal advice at an early stage. Whether this new system will succeed in providing bespoke advice for all as a real alternative to consulting an expert lawyer, we will have to wait and see.
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