From banking to booking holidays, many of us are now very familiar with taking a digital approach to day-to-day tasks. More and more of our lives have moved online, with the pandemic accelerating an already growing trend to digitalise an increasing amount of services, and legal services are no exception.
For example, since November 2020, probate practitioners have been required to make most grant applications online, via the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) online service.
Thomson Snell & Passmore’s probate team, one of the largest in the region, has been an early adopter of this new offering, which is intended to make the probate process more streamlined.
There has been a similar push in the Family Courts, with a fully digital divorce application launched to the public back in 2018.
The Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Office of the Public Guardian, has also published a consultation on plans for how Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPAs) could be modernised. Part of this includes suggestions to digitalise the LPA process.
In addition, there was a recent announcement from the Ministry of Justice that the temporary measures allowing for the remote witnessing of wills (for example via video call) in England and Wales would be extended to January 2024.
While on the one hand technological advances like these can be good news for clients and practitioners alike, and any initiative that can make processes more efficient should be welcomed, on the other, there has been some concern amongst practitioners.
For example, those working in law dealing with capacity related issues are generally nervous about a digital system increasing the risk of fraud and abuse. Similar concerns have been raised about the on going use of remote witnessing for wills.
Aside from genuine concerns around fraud and abuse, there is also a wider issue that should be addressed. It is important, in the push to encourage people to take advantage of more streamlined digital offerings, that they are not rushed into taking potentially life changing decisions without having access to the proper advice.
When it comes to things such as divorce, probate, estate planning and supporting elderly and vulnerable clients, each case is completely individual and often complex. There is no one size fits all approach and while technology can have a vital role to play in helping to make processes more efficient and streamlined, it can never take the place of personal relationships and trusted, expert advice.