Lachlan Brown on Tue, 9 Apr 2002 00:07:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Tomorrows Civil Justice System

Tomorrow's Civil Justice system  



2.1.  In a world in which the internet and other emerging technologies are having a profound effect on business, and everyday lives, we believe that the civil justice system must change to meet the likely needs of its users in the future; users who will expect access to the system through a variety of channels and improved services. We therefore need to look ahead in order to plan and develop the future shape of the justice system in the information age.  



2.2.  The consultation paper, civil.justice: Resolving and Avoiding Disputes in the Information Age , was the first step in our attempt to take a serious forward look at tomorrow's civil justice system. It was published in September 1998. The publication aroused a considerable amount of interest and there a successful one day conference was held on 10 December 1998 to discuss the issues raised in the paper.  
2.3.  There were nearly 60 responses to the paper from a range of interested groups including lawyers, consumer groups, court users and judges. These responses were encouragingly positive and an overwhelming majority thought that there was considerable scope for developing the themes contained in the paper. All of the responses were carefully analysed.  
2.4.  The key findings which emerged were strong support for pilots and projects to demonstrate the emerging technologies and the need to develop any strategy in partnership with those who responded to the paper and other interested parties. It was also clear that a great deal of exciting work was already taking place. Many respondents offered helpful ideas and suggested further collaboration in the development of the strategy. The overall verdict was that long-term planning of this nature was welcome and necessary, although the final strategy should be flexible enough to take account of a rapidly changing environment. There were also some concerns about privacy, data protection and maintaining quality. Copies of the responses (with the exception of those who requested confidentiality) were made publicly available in June 1999 (endnote 2).  



2.5.  Technological development, even in the period between publication of the original consultation paper and this document, has demonstrated the astounding pace of change in the information age. Many of the ideas thought of as "star gazing" have already begun to happen. It is difficult to predict today, how technology will develop in the next 5-15 years, save to say that it is likely to move quickly.  
2.6.  It is likely for example that many concerns about privacy and authentication will be overcome in the next 5 years. Video-conferencing is likely to grow and improve dramatically in the short to medium term, and in time it will be so good that it may feel no different to a face to face meeting. Similarly concerns about the possibility of information overload are likely to be met in many circumstances by the technology itself, which is likely to have the ability to search intelligently, sort and filter information for the user.  
2.7.  In reality it is much more likely that the pace of technology will move faster than the propensity of people to use it, and the ability of institutions to change and make the necessary investment in the infrastructure. It is therefore one task to predict the future and quite another to achieve the technical and cultural changes that will make it happen.  



2.8.  The rest of this chapter discusses a possible model for what the civil justice system might come to be. Chapter 3, the core of the paper, seeks to address some fundamental questions about how technology might be used to meet the needs of citizens and establishes our vision of how policies will need to adjust to take account of these changing needs. The paper then goes on to discuss how this might be taken forward whilst not ignoring the difficulties that must be overcome and describes how a number of key programmes will underpin the development of the vision.  



2.9.  Traditionally, reforms of the civil justice system, in England, Wales and elsewhere, have focussed on the court system; on the speedier, fairer and less costly resolution of disputes by formal legal methods. However, even a society that has streamlined and optimised its court system and associated procedures may not be able to offer satisfactory answers to crucial questions that bear on justice more generally: 

is there a sufficient level of awareness of legal issues within society such that citizens know enough to recognise occasions when they are faced with (a) an opportunity to benefit from the law or (b) the possibility of suffering under the law? 

even if they have such general awareness, can citizens gain easy access to affordable information to help them assess (a) how to exploit the opportunity or (b) whether or not they have grounds or reason for considering entering into some kind of dispute resolution process? 

in relation to potential disputes, once confident of their possible or realistic entitlements, can citizens gain easy access to affordable information to help them avoid disputes where this is possible and desirable? 

if the conduct of a dispute is the only reasonable option, can citizens gain easy access to affordable information to help them identify the best method of securing their entitlements or pursuing their remedies? 
2.10.  A society with an impressive civil court system may nonetheless not be a community in which the answers to any of these questions are positive. And yet we should surely be concerned if citizens (or organisations) are not sufficiently informed to be able to know when the law might apply to them, to find out more about their legal position should they so wish, to avoid disputes where possible or resolve them using the most appropriate techniques.  
2.11.  In summary, we should want much more than an effective court system. We should want an integrated civil justice system wherein the courts are a forum of last resort, supported by other, closely related techniques for ensuring the law is open to all. The following table shows the elements of such an integrated system.  
Knowing Your Rights and Responsibilities (services "joined up" with other departments and bodies)  
Community Legal Awareness  Increased rights awareness as part of lifelong learning in a knowledge-based society. The occurrence of standard "life episodes" should trigger alarms, along with confidence in where to look for help.  Through online guidance and call centres to bring the law to the daily attention of the community. To help promulgate the law and make it readily available. IT-supported voluntary sector.  
Legal Health Promotion  To ensure that citizens and organisations can take advantage of the many benefits that the law can confer. The law is not just restrictive but empowering. It can help promote a higher quality of life.  As above, as well as specialised online resources, collaboratively with other departments to support individuals and businesses.  
Dispute Avoidance  On the assumption that most citizens and organisations would prefer to avoid disputes than have to resolve them (however effectively), the law should provide "a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom".  CLS Portal "Just Ask", online guidance, network of practitioners available and systems for advice workers, online Q&A.  
Getting the Right Help  To ensure when the pursuit of a dispute seems inevitable that the most appropriate form of resolution process is selected by the parties involved, given the scale and nature of the disagreement in question.  Online diagnostic tools or intelligent checklists could assess the broad nature of any given claim and propose a range of alternative techniques for resolution, with pros and cons for each.  
Resolving Disputes  
Alternative Dispute Resolution  To confirm as a mainstream option for the effective resolution of disputes. To promote awareness of the wide range of techniques available. To encourage the legal profession to adopt.  To enhance existing methods. To give rise to new techniques, such as online adjudication or settlement, mediation by video conference, and virtual hearings.  
Courts and Tribunals  A last resort for citizens, when all other reasonable options have been exhausted. Ongoing improvement is needed to increase efficiency and effectiveness of outmoded systems.  To enhance existing methods. Online guidance on using the courts. New ways of delivering court service. Judges need to be fully equipped with IT. Internet-enabled document, file and case management will be vital.  
Enforcement  Decisions must be capable of efficient enforcement whilst not being oppressive  To provide better information about debtors. The better sharing of information between organisations. Cost effective and efficient enforcement.  



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