The current reform implements e-filing, online case management and in some cases even online dispute resolution.
The revolutionary pilot scheme which allows money claims to be filed online by creditors is already in action https://www.gov.uk/make-money-claim. The new system is designed to process up to 2,000,000 civil claims a year, and to serve disputing parties, rather than going through lawyers, clerks and experts.
The convenience of the pilot system and explanatory notes are still being tested, justice.gov.uk is actively seeking feedback from the users.
However, the Court managers and judges are planning the next moves to keep up the pace:
- to increase the maximum claimed amount from £100,000 to £300,000;
- to facilitate case management meetings online or over the phone;
- to limit legal costs for each party to £80,000 (something which would be too much for an ordinary person, and not anywhere near enough for a litigation solicitor from i.e. Mishcon de Reya or Holman’s);
- to encourage parties to have one expert for both parties;
- to limit the amount of words in the submissions and witness statements;
- disclose only the documents on which the parties rely;
- to embark on interpreting smart contracts, which may involve AI;
- to limit the time from case management meetings to the hearing to 8 months, during which the parties would exchange witness statements, expert reports, skeleton arguments and prepare for the hearing; and finally
- to dispose of the hearing bundles.
The above proposals may not go far enough for generation Z, but would seem revolutionary and unrealistic for lawyers and experts who know too well how to trundle their wheeled bags with bundles to the court.
The Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos (The Chancellor of the High Court) has reassured solicitors that the English courts wanted to retain their share of the market, in which 70% of their cases had at least one foreign party, and in 40% of the cases both the claimant and the defendant were foreign.
The ongoing court reform will be even a bigger threat to London arbitral panels, which flourished in the 90s and 00s allegedly because the parties to the disputes did not want to make their arguments in public.
The common profile of a London arbitrator would be a retired judge of the High Court or a barrister, who would probably struggle with the concept of a blockchain or e-case management system, but would be used to finding the right file in his box from the NakedWines labelled ‘URGENT’. With arbitration fees being higher than court fees, and the unjustifiably lengthy time taken for producing an award (sometimes with doubtful legal reasoning), the modernisation of the English Court system may end the era of London arbitration dominance.