The civl justice system and those relying on it are facing a difficult time.
As these statistics show, fast and multi-track cases in the worst affected part of the country are taking an average of 456 days (15 months) to reach a costs and case management conference, the stage before a trial when parties to a claim meet with a judge and agree the directions and costs budget of the case to trial.
In 2021, government-backed Lawtech UK published a report focusing on the court delays faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), specifically relating to resolving late payment disputes, which "in traditional courts takes too long, is disproportionately expensive, and can jeopardise ongoing business relationships."
The report promotes online dispute (ODR) as the way forward in tackling this, saying an investment of £3.5million could resolve 200,000 business disputes in five years, releasing £3.4bn in disputed money.
The Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) support this view. ODR, a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), can play a pivotal role in the future of the civil justice system, as it steps towards digitisation.
To increase the consumer voice in this debate, ACSO has created an ADR working group with members drawn from across the legal and insurance sectors as well as ADR providers themselves. It will encourage collaboration in understanding and promoting the important role that different models of dispute resolution can play in the civil justice system by improving its efficiency, timeliness and access to justice for consumers.
ACSO would like to see government commission a further study from Lawtech UK, perhaps covering the benefits that ADR could have in personal injury and clinical negligence, where we believe it can serve a valuable purpose; even more so given the recent transitions to digitisation such as the Official Injury Claim service and the Damages Claims Portal.
As we move towards a digitised civil justice system, it needs to be a system that works better. Digitisation alone will not solve everything, so serious consideration must also be had of ways to improve efficiency and access to justice for consumers using innovative technology.
ADR has a significant role to play in the shift towards a modernised legal system, and should beat the very least considered across all facets of civil justice. A shift away from unnecessarily adversarial behaviours in the training of lawyers and a focus on skills such as negotiation should also be welcomed.
If this does not happen, the system could be in a mess for much longer, and consumers will face further frustrating delays.
Author: Jack Normington, Trainee Solicitor at Fletchers Solicitors and ACSO secondee.