Concern expressed over online courts plan
23rd Sep 2016
Professional bodies have reacted negatively to the government’s plans to introduce online courts, raising concerns that defendants could be placed at a disadvantage.
Reacting to the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming our justice system proposals, both the Law Society and the Bar Council said that although modernisation is welcome, the plans should be treated with caution.
Robert Bourns, Law Society president, said that making the courts more accessible is a ‘natural step,’ but warned that although virtual hearings could save time and money, they could also place defendants “at a real disadvantage”.
“Anyone facing a criminal charge needs to be able to access expert legal advice at the earliest possible juncture,” he said.
“Defendants in less serious cases – particularly the young – might think that pleading guilty online without seeing a solicitor is a convenient way of “getting it over and done with”. This could have serious implications for them if they are found guilty,” Burns continued. He then added that any digitised system must have appropriate safeguards to prevent exclusion of those who do not use or have access to a computer.
Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chair of the Bar Council, said the council had “serious concerns” about online courts regarding civil money claims.
She said the plans could create a “two-tier justice system” which may result in a system providing a different type of justice to claimants and defendants, depending upon the size of the claims.
On measures announced to protect vulnerable witnesses and victims, Doerries said making the justice system a more suitable environment was “a step in the right direction”.