29 May 2015 by

Dispute Resolution Evolution: Her Majesty’s Virtual Court?

Advances in technology have forced many industries to change, often with our lives being made easier as a result. Much of what we do today, from reading the newspaper, paying our bills or finding a partner, is done online. 

Resolving disputes is no different. The online dispute resolution system run by eBay settles 60 million disputes per year between small traders. 

The Civil Justice Council intends to do the same for the justice system in the UK; with the introduction of ‘online dispute resolution’ via a new ‘virtual’ Court; the HM Online Court (HMOC). 

It is anticipated that the changes will lead to greater access to justice for litigants due to the simplification of the current system, speedier resolution of matters through early settlements and substantial savings for participants and the Justice system. 

The proposed new system will deal with disputes with a value of up to £25,000 and will operate in three stages: 

The first is online ‘evaluation’. Users will be able to categorise their dispute though online Q&A sessions, allowing them to understand their rights and the options available to them. The UK will be playing catch up to other legal systems in offering this service, for example the Dutch Legal Aid Board’s ‘Rechtwijzer 2.0’ currently offers ‘automated’ legal advice in this way. 

The second stage is online ‘facilitation’. It is proposed that this will also be partly automated, without the need for human intervention. The aim of this stage is to encourage parties to agree a settlement through mediation or negotiation, with a real-life mediator brought in at a later stage if it becomes necessary. Again, other countries are already using technology that offers such services. In the US, over 200,000 claims (with a value of $1.6 billion) have been resolved through sites such as www.cybersettle.com. A ‘double blind bidding’ site, Cybersettle asks the parties to submit their highest and lowest acceptable settlement figures. If the figures overlap, the difference is split and the dispute is settled.

The third tier is reserved for cases that cannot be settled. The pleadings, which will be submitted online, will be considered by a Judge who will have the option to hold a telephone or virtual hearing. 

The Civil Justice Council’s Advisory Group is continuing its efforts to make the case for the introduction of the HMOC and pilots are expected in 2016; with a full rollout expected in 2017. 

For more information on settling disputes please contact Nicola McQuillan on 020 7288 4749 or nicolamcquillan@boltburdon.co.uk

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