There have been multiple calls for online courts from multiple quarters in the past few years, with the first digital court processes currently in development. Many of these have lauded the concept as a way to use contemporary technology to enhance the UK’s justice processes. However, there have also been reservations, and many of the concerns expressed about the concept of digital courts have also revolved around the integrity of British justice.
About Online Courts
Online courts would in many ways be similar to the small claims track, the closest thing the UK currently has to an online court which can often see financial cases settled through online forms with no physical court appearances. Details of the case and all relevant information would be gathered through online forms, and judges and legal professionals could access, review, and respond to the case remotely. This would, of course, be limited to certain kinds of case for which this kind of approach is felt to be sufficient.
Access to Justice
One of the key strengths that online courts could bring to the UK’s legal system is improving access to justice. Some people in remote rural areas are already quite a distance from their nearest court, and in an age when significant numbers of courts are closing to save costs many of these people are finding themselves further and further away from their “local” centre of justice. For at least some kinds of cases, online courts could provide many of these people with direct access to the courts without the need to travel to a specific physical location. On the negative side, while few have debated the advantages of this the Ministry of Justice has been accused of using online courts as an excuse for closing local courts, and an inferior substitute for keeping them open.
Quality of Justice
This is arguably among the more contentious issues surrounding the impact that online courts may have on how justice is done in the UK. Critics suggest that having cases dealt with online would make it harder to ensure that justice is done properly and fairly, and also express concerns about the fact that some online court proposals may exclude professional legal representation from a number of cases. Proponents of online courts, on the other hand, claim that for many cases an online system is entirely adequate without compromising on the quality of justice, and that by being easier to access and more affordable it would encourage a greater number of people to pursue justice in the first place.