Thousand of legal disputes would be settled online each year under plans for an eBay-inspired revolution in the civil justice system.
Judges would rule on cases involving up to £25,000 without the need for courts to be booked or for the parties involved to appear in person to give evidence. The proposed shake-up – which is supported by senior judges –could also save large sums for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
It also highlighted a new online system launched by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, which arbitrates on disputes between motorists and councils in England and Wales. “The portal enables appellants to appeal, upload evidence and follow cases and hearings under one evidence screen and account.
The Courts and Tribunals Service, which is an MoJ agency, welcomed the recommendations as “important and thought-provoking” and said it was “actively exploring in more detail” the idea of online dispute resolution.
The MoJ said its aim was to enable all court professionals to be able to operate without paper, with lawyers working from their laptops, rather than relying on stacks of paperwork.
However, the Law Society, which represents solicitors, raised fears that courts would not be given IT systems of a sufficiently high quality to handle large numbers of cases.
The moves could also save money for the MoJ, which has suffered a real-terms budget cut of 27 per cent – equivalent to £2.7bn a year – between 2010 and 2015 and faces a further 10 per cent reduction in the next financial year.
Cuts to the cost of the courts system are set to yield £200m in savings by next year, while cuts to legal aid and prisons are on course to claw back £220m and £180m respectively.