Costs News

19 February 2015
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CJC calls for online dispute resolution

Online dispute resolution (ODR) for low-value claims should be introduced in England and Wales in 2017, a major report from the Civil Justice Council (CJC) argued this week.

An advisory group set up by the CJC – chaired by Professor Richard Susskind, IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice – said ODR would increase access to justice through delivering a more affordable and user-friendly service, and would streamline the court process.

Though its terms of reference were limited to investigating the suitability of ODR for civil claims under the value of £25,000, the advisory group said suitable family disputes and tribunal cases should also come within the jurisdiction of a new HM Online Court (HMOC), which would be part of HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS).

However, the group recognised that ODR would not be appropriate for all types of cases.

HMOC would not just be about dispute resolution, the report said, with parties first going through ‘dispute avoidance’ – with online tools helping people diagnose their issues and identify the best way of resolving them – and then ‘dispute containment’, in which non-lawyer facilitators would try and help the parties resolve their issues.

If unsuccessful, the case would move to stage three, in which professional judges would decide suitable cases online, largely on the basis of papers received electronically, but with an option of telephone hearings. The decisions would be as binding, enforceable and appealable as any other court rulings.

The report called for the system to be piloted in 2015-16 ahead of national rollout in 2017. It suggested, but did not recommend, that the pilot should focus on the small claims track of claims up to £10,000 and personal injury and housing disrepair claims of up to £1,000.

It said a “modest fraction” of the £75m being pumped into the civil courts in each of the next five years to renew the system should be allocated to ODR.

Court fees would be lower than for users of physical courts, but the advisory group said they should be set at a level that deterred litigants attracted by the ease of online claims to pursue cases with no realistic prospect of success.

Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls and chairman of the Civil Justice Council, said: “This an important and timely report. There is no doubt that ODR has enormous potential for meeting the needs (and preferences) of the system and its users in the 21st century. Its aim is to broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply. The challenge lies in delivering a system that fulfils that objective.”

An HM Courts & Tribunals Service spokeswoman said: “We welcome the publication of this important and thought-provoking report. We agree that ODR is an important area and one that we are actively exploring in more detail in the context of the reform of court and tribunal services. We are keen to continue to engage with the ODR advisory group on its report and any future work that the Civil Justice Council may commission it to do.”

The advisory group has put together an online resource centre here.

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