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Dr Sue Prince

University of Exeter expert helps bring online courts one step nearer to reality

New online courts for civil cases designed to help make the justice system more user-friendly could be introduced, thanks in part to the work of a University of Exeter academic.

The courts would be for “low value” cases, designed so people can navigate the process of managing disputes more easily and cheaply.

It is hoped online courts will ensure delivery of faster and fairer justice for users by making better use of technology and modernising working practices. Disputes would be resolved early without a judge having to become involved.

Their introduction was recommended last week by Lord Justice Briggs, Deputy Head of Civil Justice, in the final report of his structure review of the civil courts.

The recommendation comes after a study by an expert group, including Dr Sue Prince, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter Law School, suggested online civil law courts would increase access to justice and streamline the court processes in England and Wales.

A significant number of cases that go to civil courts tend to be small claims generally under £10,000 or are disputes over money, or services, or low value personal injury claims. Businesses may also use small claims to reclaim debt.

Drastic cuts to legal aid have led to an increase in the number of people who are unable to afford a lawyer and have to circumnavigate the courts alone. Seeking help for everyday problems can be complicated and expensive in the current court system.

Professor Prince was part of an advisory group set up by the Civil Justice Council (CJC) to explore the role of online dispute resolution (ODR) in resolving civil disputes across the internet, using techniques such as skype, e-negotiation and e-mediation. The group published a report recommending that a dedicated state-run online court operate alongside the traditional court system.

The Government has already previously committed £700m to using technology to reform the courts system.

Lord Justice Briggs’ Civil Court Structure Review proposed the new online court and said it would improve access to justice and be simpler for people to use than the current court system. He endorsed the work of the Advisory Group.

Professor Prince said: “I am very pleased that Lord Justice Briggs has taken on board our proposals and the judiciary are so whole-heartedly in support of creating new online court systems. It would give more people access to justice and make the process easier to navigate for them.

“These are ambitious, innovative and exciting plans and I believe they could make the justice system simpler and more user-friendly.”

Date: 2 August 2016

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