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Online courts ‘need further thought’, legal year event hears

Proposals for online courts to handle all civil claims up to £25,000 have not been fully thought through and could see vulnerable people lose access to justice, an event to mark the opening of the legal year heard today.

Peter Wright, managing director of technology firm DigitalLaw UK and chair of the Law Society’s technology and law reference group, questioned whether courts would be ready to meet the needs of people if the proposals are realised.
‘Many questions are still to be answered,’ he said. ‘This includes whether or not people will be able to access fast enough internet connections and if any provisions will be made for people who do not have English as a first language.’

Wright was speaking at an opening of the legal year event held at Inner Temple today that asked what impact technology will have on legal services.

Although billed as a way of modernising the justice system, Wright told delegates he considered the online courts plan to be ‘driven by cost savings’. He added that people may lose out on getting the advice of a legal professional and miss out on the benefits of attending court.

But he was challenged by an audience member who said the ‘vulnerable’ group he was referring to is already unlikely to access courts due to costs involved.

Lord Justice Briggs, the judge tasked with deciding the structure of future civil courts, has said he was aware that some people may have difficulty in accessing the facility, but that support services will be made available, possibly staffed by law students.

During the event, speakers also discussed how law associations can help firms adapt to the changes posed by technology.

Isabel Parker, director of legal services innovation at magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said law firms, particularly large international firms, should not be ‘out on their own’.

She encouraged dialogue and collaboration with bodies including the Law Society about how technology can be utilised in the profession.

‘As a profession we have been quite passive – we should not be out on our own – we need to join up with law societies,’ she said.

Wright added that bar organisations and law societies should make sure they engage with the changes and disseminate information through webinars and conferences.

By Max Walters

(Courtesy of the Law Society Gazette)