A review of the structure of current civil court system by Lord Justice Briggs, the Deputy Head of Civil Justice in England & Wales, was published in July 2016 and highlighted the lack of a suitable dispute resolution forum for disputes where the amounts involved do not usually justify involving solicitors.
Briggs LJ’s proposed solution to this issue is the creation of an “online solutions court”, a structured system of dispute resolution that can be used by individuals and small businesses to resolve disputes in an accessible and cost effective manner. The online solutions court will use a 3 stage process composed of:
- an initial online process to assist parties to input the relevant information and identify key issues in dispute;
- a guided conciliation process to enable resolution without needing to involve a judge; and should stage ii be unsuccessful,
- final determination by a judge, which may be on paper or resolved in a formal hearing.
The easiest comparison is with an online dispute resolution system such as the one used by eBay to solve disputes between sellers and buyers operating on its site.
Briggs LJ proposes that the online solutions court deals only with claims where there is no significant dispute of fact, with an upper claim limit starting at £10,000 but eventually rising to £25,000 . .
To further discourage parties from pursing legal action (or using solicitors to do so), it is proposed that there should be limits on parties recovering costs from their opponent in the event of success, which may include fixed costs for initial advice (and advocacy at trial if truly necessary). This is designed to encourage parties to obtain early bespoke advice on the merits of their position saving time and money at a later stage.
Alison Antill, a solicitor in the Dispute Resolution Team, comments as follows, “These proposals are a sensible solution to the issues currently facing individuals and businesses where it is not commercially viable to involve solicitors throughout and drawing on the success of the eBay model seems sensible. However, it will be a relief to those involved in the process that obtaining legal advice at the very outset of a claim is encouraged, and it will still be possible to seek to recover costs for doing so on the successful resolution of the matter”.