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Online Courts will cut need for lawyers – IT guru

Solicitors will inevitably be phased out of low value claim work with the advent of online Courts, the architect of the digital scheme has predicted.
Professor Richard Susskind, Author of 2008 book entitled “the end of lawyers?” today called on the Government to implement a new system of online dispute resolution, HM online Court.
The scheme would involve “facilitators” working with litigants to prevent their dispute going any further, with Judges ruling online – possibly through video conferencing – for cases that cannot be settled.
Professor Susskind stated the scheme’s facilitators are unlikely to be legal professionals and he admitted there is going to be less work for solicitors as a result of the drive to online dispute resolution.
The Civil Justice Council commissioned Professor Susskind and today published a report recommending “automated negotiation” to help parties resolve their disputes without the intervention of human experts. This could involve so called “blind bidding” in trying to come to a settlement. The Bar Council however sounded a sceptical note about the proposal. In a statement a spokesman said “justice will not be served if people with complex claims find themselves funnelled down routes that are designed for a quick result at the expense of proper consideration of relevant facts in their case. Dispute resolution, online or in Court, must deliver the same quality of justice as more traditional routes”.
In my experience of dealing with civil disputes there are many cases that are suitable for resolution by dispute resolution. These cases do often resolve where the parties are willing to resolve them by dispute resolution. However there are a significant number of cases that I deal with where one party in the dispute is willing to resolve the matter but the other simply is not either because they have not got the money to pay the claim or they would prefer to take the case to trial.
Further I deal with a significant number of clients who wish to seek a remedy from a Judge which they consider to be a just outcome. These cases are cases where clients are pursuing good cases against another party who simply will not co-operate or pay. My clients seek justice from the Courts and a remedy either in the form of a Judgment or an Order for specific performance. They do not always want to go through a mediation process which involves them receiving low or unreasonable terms from other parties who are seeking to pay off their claims.
The justice system should provide a remedy for clients who are entitled to a full remedy and are not faced with the prospect of being invited to accept low offers. Justice dictates that where a wrong has been done to somebody they should get a remedy that is adequate.
Further in my experience District Judges will find on cases based on the facts and if ones client had a strong case and if it is well presented the case will be successful. I see no reason why clients should be forced to resolve their disputes by mediation and accept reduced damages.
Further clients do wish to take advice from a solicitor who is independent and can formulate an opinion upon the merit of their case. Solicitors do not advise clients to go to trial so that the solicitor can make more money. Solicitor’s professional rules dictate that they should always act in the best interests of a client and that means advising a client on the merit of their case. Therefore if a client’s case lacks merit a solicitor will generally advise them not to pursue the matter through the Courts and to try and reach a settlement. Mediation can indeed facilitate that and avoids the cost of a trial. However where a client has a good case and deserves a remedy a solicitor should advise their clients to pursue a fully remedy and not accept a low offer.
I feel strongly that the role of lawyers is resolving disputes in the best interests of their clients. Lawyers for hundreds of years have acted in the best interests of their clients to guide them through often difficult situations where they face claims or are pursuing claims. In my opinion we should be proud of our justice system and should avoid introducing reforms which remove a client’s ability to take independent and good advice from their solicitor.
Matthew Winder
Senior Director
Clarkson Hirst Solicitors
19 February 2015


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