Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd , the Lord Chief Justice, gave a speech this week to the Justice Committee at the House of Commons in which he argued for primary legislation to enable the creation of an Online Court in which settlement assistance would be readily available as part of the process and litigants would not be at any disadvantage by not being represented by lawyers. His speech echoes the proposals made last year by myself and my colleagues in the ODR Advisory Group to the Civil Justice Council.
Lord Thomas said that court appointed neutrals (case officers) assigned to disputes to assist the parties to find a settlemen 'don't necessarily have to be lawyers'– although judges would always be required to determine cases that cannot be resolved. ‘There is a huge amount of case management and getting things ready for presenting to the judge that can be done without lawyers.’
Many see the Arrival's Hall of HM Online Court as also the Departure Lounge for lawyers from the court system. Whilst ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) is indeed disruptive to current practices, it opens up opportunities to lawyers to focus more on delivering cost effective services at the high end of the skills scale than they are able to do without ODR technologies and, importantly, by significantly increasing access to justice and thus the number of disputes that the public are able to pursue through the justice system, increases the market in which to offer legal services. Lawyers who embrace ODR and seek to exploit creatively what is available will benefit over those who simply wish to be protected by old practices that have seen access diminish.