Further to recent articles on increased court fees, the TSP Civil and Commercial Dispute Resolution team, discuss the latest proposals aimed at reducing the cost of litigation.

An advisory group to the Civil Justice Council has recently set out proposals to introduce online dispute resolution (‘ODR’) as a viable alternative for civil claims with a value of less than £25,000.

The opinion of the advisory group is that the current system for low value claims is too costly, too slow and too complex, and would benefit from an internet-based service which would allow members of the judiciary to settle matters online.

It is proposed that ODR would involve the process of settling a dispute largely or entirely through the internet, rather than in a traditional courtroom or hearing room. This would be achieved through providing judges, mediators or negotiators with facilities to handle disputes in some cases, while in others it allows for legal problems or negotiation to be assessed without the need for expert intervention.

Whilst recognising that it might be perceived as quite radical by some, the Civil Justice Council believe ODR should be seen as an alternative, cost-efficient form of dispute resolution and should be considered openly. Its recommendations are made with the view that civil disputes, in the future, may need to be managed and resolved in different ways.

Initial recommendations include the following:
•HM Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) should establish a new, three-tiered, internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (‘HMOC’) which would work in the following way:•Tier One. Provide online evaluation to help users classify and categorise their issues and to be made aware of any rights and obligations arising from these.
•Tier Two. Provide online facilitation, where online facilitators will attempt to ensure a quick, fair resolution of disputes with the support of telephone conferencing facilities and automated negotiation but without the involvement of judges.
•Tier Three. Provide online judges (full-time and part-time members of the judiciary) who will decide cases or aspects of cases online, on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically.

•Judges would be trained to deal with dispute resolution in this way and the state should formally fund online facilitation and online evaluation services to support this process (with HMCTS allocating £75m of its annual reform budget to create HMOC).

The Civil Justice Council are currently seeking support from all political parties to offer in-principle support for HMOC as a means of increasing access to justice and reducing costs of pursuing claims. More consultation papers and discussion is likely to follow.

For more information on how the TSP Dispute Resolution team can help with your dispute, whether you are an individual or a business, contact them here.