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Bar Council cautious over plans to discard lawyers

Dispensing with lawyers could lead to 'denial of justice', says Bar chairman

19 January 2016

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The Bar Council will scrutinise Lord Justice Briggs' 'practicable proposition' for an online court to resolve straightforward claims up to £25,000.

Last week Lord Briggs published an interim report of the civil courts structure, highlighting the revolutionary effect an online dispute resolution (ODR) service could have on increasing access to justice while avoiding lawyer costs.

The online court (OC) proposed by Lord Briggs will work in three stages. First, an automated and interactive process will identify any issues; second, conciliation and case management by case officers; and third, resolution by judges.

To assist users, an 'assisted digital' provision would include online assistance, telephone helplines, and face-to-face human help.

Responding to the proposals, chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: 'Improving access to justice should be the primary objective of any reforms to our system of justice.

'Many will share Lord Justice Briggs' concern that the stranglehold of paper, which has had a profound influence on the structure and procedure of our civil courts over many years, needs to be broken.'

Doerries added that while technology has the potential to reduce the cost and complexity of the court system, a removal of lawyers from civil proceedings might not achieve the desired objectives.

Instead, the newly appointed chair believes the good intentions of introducing an OC could have an opposite effect on access to justice.

'Civil claims are brought when people face life-changing circumstances such as being unfairly dismissed, finding they are the victim of financial fraud, or being unable to work because of an accident at work or an incidence of medical negligence,' said Doerries.

'Removing lawyers from disputes such as these effectively means leaving people to fend for themselves, which could result in a denial of justice.

'Coming on top of the recent severe restrictions on the availability legal aid in civil cases and the huge increases in court fees in such cases, these proposals could have a major impact on litigants.'

While Doerries added that she remained cautious about Lord Briggs plans: 'The legal profession has a vital role to play, with the judiciary, in ensuring that the civil courts in England and Wales remain among the most highly regarded in the world which is why the Bar Council will be examining these proposals very carefully.'

An ongoing consultation process will be completed by the summer with written responses invited for submission by the end of February 2016.

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Technology Divorce Courts & Judiciary