Radical plans to create a new online court system for civil claims worth up to £25,000, may not be in the best interests of small businesses and individuals and has not been properly thought out according to Mark Sharpley at the UK200Group of independent chartered accountancy and legal firms.
Lord Justice Briggs, who has been tasked with carrying out a full scale review of the civil justice system, has already admitted that for an online system to work, the Government will probably need to create a system of support for people with computer access difficulties and has confessed that he doesn’t regard a telephone helpline as “going the whole way by any means.”
The Law Society has also criticised plans for the proposed online system to deal with claims of up to £25,000, suggesting that a lower limit of £10,000 would be more appropriate.
Mr Sharpley, Chair of UK200Group’s Legal Industry Group and Partner at chartered accountants Smailes Goldie, said: “Although the proposed online court may not require legal advocates, there will still be a need for legal advice to ensure that everyone can access justice.
“Given that Government figures estimate 10 per cent of the population is without computer access and many more individuals and small business owners will be nervous about the prospect of attempting to make a civil claim without legal representation, I fear these plans to make justice more accessible could end up being counter-productive.
“There is a risk of this potentially leading to unscrupulous ‘PPI-style’ claims managers filling the void, using unregulated non-lawyers to assist with online claims, taking substantial success fees from unsuspecting claimants and leaving them with very little compensation.
“The situation is made worse by the fact that wide ranging increases to court fees, implemented by the Ministry of Justice, has made bringing a civil claim significantly more expensive.
“The net effect is that small businesses and individuals who have a legitimate claim, will feel that it is simply too costly and too risky to take their cases to court, leading to many claimants not gaining the justice they deserve.
“I believe a fairer system would be created by lowering the threshold as well as allowing registered professional bodies to assist, for example para legals with relevant certified experience.
The concept of ‘fair justice for all’ faces being irrevocably eroded if plans for an online system do not take into account the significant issues which need to be resolved before it goes live. After all, any system that seeks to reduce an administrative and costly burden, has to be worthy of proper consultation.’’