The Bar Council, representing all barristers in England and Wales, has today issued a statement in response to the Ministry of Justice’s announcement on the launch of a new online service for people to start a claim in the County Court for amounts up to £10,000.
Chair of the Bar, Andrew Walker QC, said:
“New technology can be a powerful tool, which ought to be harnessed where it can to help to secure access to justice, and to ensure that our courts system keeps pace with the demands of modern society.
“But this must not be at the expense of justice itself, or of the involvement of real judges and human interaction in the determination of those disputes in which this is necessary. Nor should it be assumed that online processes are open to all, or can lead to an effective outcome in all cases.
“Technology is also very far from being an effective substitute for expert legal advice and representation, particularly for the most vulnerable who need it most. It must not deter those in need from seeking advice, or detract from its value, including in ensuring that weak claims are kept away from the courts, and weak defences are not pursued. We must avoid a virtual manifestation of the many difficulties suffered and presented by litigants-in-person in our courts at the moment.
“The online civil money claims pilot is a modest first step in the direction of using technology to identify the key issues at the first stage of such claims, and of encouraging litigants to resolve lower value claims amicably. It is right that it is modest. The pilot must be evaluated carefully, and it must not be assumed that lessons learned are necessarily applicable more widely or to more substantial or complex claims. The focus must be on identifying whether this truly assists access to justice, and does so in a more efficient and cost-effective way.
“We will continue to work with HMCTS to identify the right ways to introduce technological progression, without diluting true justice and fairness.”