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Judith Townend

Judith Townend is lecturer in media and information law at the University of Sussex and an associate research fellow at the Information Law and Policy Centre, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

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The testing of online courts should not simply be about whether the technology works, said Andrew Langdon QC, chairman of the Bar, at an event on 16 February hosted by the UCL Judicial Institute, “The Case for Online Courts”.

He sensibly pointed out the “human process” of law, and the potential impacts of the transition to digital over face-to-face technologies.

Langdon was one of a number of experts responding to Professor Richard Susskind’s lecture on his vision for online courts, and online civil dispute resolution in particular.

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Professor Richard Susskind OBE is well known within the legal profession for his numerous books predicting a dramatic transformation in legal practice, and calling for an overhaul of 21st century lawyering.

In February 2015 he made national headlines for his proposed eBay-style scheme for online dispute resolution (ODR) and the recommendation that HMCTS introduce a new, internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC), to be launched in 2017. As Chair of the Civil Justice Council’s ODR Advisory Group and IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice, he had been tasked with finding a way to resolve low-level civil claims more cheaply.

Data are – or is – everything and everywhere, flowing through everyday life, our workplaces, our homes and our minds. Social, political and legal activity is documented and controlled through digital information records, affecting all UK citizens, even those who have never used the internet or a mobile phone. The question of how data and information are regulated and used is clearly important, and a priority for policymakers, but how to study it?

That is the challenge for the new Centre for Law and Information Policy at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies which will launch officially in late February 2015. It is concerned with the law and policy of information and data, and will explore the ways in which law both restricts and enables the sharing and dissemination of different types of information. We have already identified research themes and topics that deserve particular attention, but will remain flexible in our scope, as new technology develops and as human behaviour changes.

The Law Commission has recently recommended the introduction of an online database of “postponement” orders. What are its chances of success?

The legal framework around contempt of court puts the onus on court reporters to ascertain the terms of relevant reporting restriction orders in given criminal cases. They are expected to be familiar with the automatic restrictions, and to find out details of the discretionary postponement orders in place – orders which prevent publication of material until a set date, or the end of specified proceedings, under s 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. However, the latter can present difficulties.

The principle of open justice has been robustly developed in English law since the mid-17th century, but the courts service in England and Wales has yet to fully utilise online technology for the dissemination of courts information and legal knowledge.