More UK citizens are set to benefit from online services in courts and tribunals through reforms unveiled in the House of Lords on 1 May 2019 that will make it easier than ever for court users to apply for small money claims or divorce online.
The Online Procedure Rule Committee will prescribe the process for making online procedure rules, which would then have to be signed by a majority of the committee before being submitted to the Lord Chancellor for approval. The committee will be set up as soon as possible after royal assent of the Bill.
More than 35,000 applications for divorce have already been made online since the system was launched in May 2018, reducing errors in applications from 40% to less than 1%.
In addition, almost 60,000 applications were made to HMCTS’ online civil money claims service during the past year with claims now taking, on average, 10 minutes to issue – down from 15 days using the former paper-based service.
New and simplified rules around online services
The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill forms part of the government’s ambitious £1 billion Reform Programme and will establish a judicially chaired committee tasked with developing new, simplified rules around online services in civil, family and tribunal proceedings.
The programme is working on court reforms to bring new technology and modern ways of working to the way justice is administered. These include more than 50 distinct projects, working across all jurisdictions.
During the first phase of the reforms, the focus was on testing the basics behind the plans. The first phase comprised of activities like testing early digital services, starting to create national teams to deliver more consistent service, putting in infrastructure, and starting less visible but important work to prepare for the next phase.
The current second phase has made the following first services available to more people:
- Starting work on their equivalents in other parts of the system (public family law, for example)
- Building ‘enabling’ services (such as video connections and technology to support listing)
- Standing up more national ways of working that give the public more responsive and consistent service (such as case tracking and answers to questions about what will happen next)
New online services already launched are
- Apply for a divorce
- Make a money claim online
- Appeal to the tax tribunal
Digital process guidance
The announced measures will allow even more users to benefit from these online services.
Ministry of Justice Spokesperson in the Lords, Lord Keen, said: “From appealing their tax bill online to applying for divorce, every single day people up and down the country are already taking advantage of our ambitious court reforms. This Bill will improve access to justice for all by providing clear and understandable rules to guide people through the many new digital processes we are introducing.”
A dedicated Online Procedure Rule Committee will allow civil and family cases to be progressed more efficiently, as well as allowing financial savings across the justice system.
Easy to follow guidance will ensure online services are as simple as possible to navigate and increase access to justice while supporting the uptake of HMCTS’ online services.
According to a report from NAO last year, HMCTS faced a daunting challenge in delivering the scale of technological and cultural change necessary to modernise the justice system and achieve required savings.