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Online Justice with eBay-Like Courts?

Online Justice with eBay-Like Courts?

A new report from the Civil Justice Council has recommended that low-value civil court cases in England and Wales could be dealt with online, in an online disputes system like that used by online marketplace eBay.

According to the report, which has been welcome by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, settling cases up to £25,000 would reduce court-generated costs.

The idea is to use a system similar to that which eBay uses to resolve disputes. eBay settles around 60 million disputes between traders on its site every year, and the report likened this “minor” dispute to that of many civil court cases.

The system would have a three-tier structure, overseen by what the report refers to as “online facilitators”. These facilitators would be responsible for helping the parties to reach an agreement.

If an agreement cannot be reached early on, online judges would be brought in to rule on the case. Under this scheme, no courts would have to be booked and no one involved would have to appear in person to give evidence. Ultimately, it should not only save on money, but also on time.

The structure of the three tiers would work like this:

Tier 1: “Dispute Avoidance”. People would use interactive guides and read information to help them understand their issues, as well as identify the best of for them to resolve said issues.

Tier 2: “Dispute containment”. This is where the online facilitators come in to help the parties reach an agreement.

Tier 3: “Dispute resolution”. The top and final tier when judges are brought in to consider only suitable cases online. This would be done on the basis of electronically received papers and optional telephone hearings.

It is hoped that the majority of cases could be handled without having to reach the third tier so that a judge doesn’t have to become involved in the case.

Professor Richard Susskind, the IT advisor to the Lord Chief Justice, is the author of the paper. He described the eBay dispute resolution model as “remarkable”, which is why he thinks it could be implemented in the civil courts system.

Lord Dyson, Civil Justice Council chairperson, believes that converting the civil courts system online could be an exciting milestone in the history of the courts.

“There is no doubt that online dispute resolution is an area with enormous potential,” he enthused. “Its aim is to broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply. The challenge lies in delivering a system that fulfils that objective.”

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