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Online civil claims pilot now public across England and Wales

  • United Kingdom
  • Financial services disputes and investigations

24-04-2018

Individuals and businesses wishing to start an action in the County Court small claims track to claim money owed up to £10,000 can now do so online via a new public platform.  The new service allows people to issue and respond to claims online.  It also encourages settlement disputes online and provides links to free mediation services, which will save time, save expense and free up expensive court time for more complex matters. 

In his 2016 report on the structure of civil courts, Lord Briggs stated that the courts and tribunals systems must be modernised.  The online service was originally launched as a closed pilot (invitation only) in 2017  in response to concern that members of the public had been put off using the civil courts to make small claims because of the length of time it took to pursue a claim and the complexity of the system. 

The pilot was considered successful with early evidence suggesting higher engagement from defendants and it has now been rolled out publicly. 

Notwithstanding this success, the Bar Council, which represents all barristers in England and Wales, has recently issued a statement warning that whilst new technology can be a powerful tool, “it must not be at the expense of justice itself, or of the involvement of real judgments and human interaction in the determination of those disputes in which this is necessary.  Nor should it be assumed that online processes are open to all, or can lead to an effective outcome in all cases”.  Therefore, whilst the service is a modest first step in the right direction, its effects must be analysed and evaluated carefully and regularly to ensure that it is working and assisting access to justice in a more efficient and cost effective way.

Practice Direction 51R currently sets out the applicable rules.  This Practice Direction may be amended in the future as the platform is used more widely.  In the meantime, firms should review their claims systems and processes, if they have not done already, to ensure compatibility with the new service.

Finally, there is a further online Court pilot currently operating which covers claims up to £25,000 and deals with claims where the claimant is legally represented.  This pilot is still closed (invitation only) and the details are set out in Practice Direction 51S. This pilot is expected to run until 30 November 2019 and as yet, there are no immediate plans to make it public.

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