Addressing the latest monthly members’ meeting of the International Council for Online Dispute Resolution on 6 May 2021, Lord Michael Briggs expressed his disappointment that, almost five years since his Final Report on The Civil Courts Structure Review, in which he recommended that a form of early triage be introduced to an online civil court, and four years since the Online Civil Money Claim project opened for business, such a system has yet to be put in place.
He was using the term “triage” to refer to a system that provides a journey through a logic tree of questions designed to help litigants without lawyers to better evaluate and articulate their claim.
In a question tabled at the event, Graham Ross pointed out that the questions claimants are taken through in the current Civil Money Claim project are limited to assessing whether the Civil Procedure Rules for the project are being followed, eg no more than one claimant and one defendant, that the defendant resides in England or Wales, that neither party is legally represented, that the claim is for no more than £10,000 etc). As to the claim itself, the unrepresented litigants were given an empty box in which to describe their case with no assistance.
Lord Briggs said:
“We are only in my view at the early stages of putting it right and my greatest wish is that getting triage properly built into the online system was prioritised more than it has been. That doesn’t mean to say there has not been work on it and doesn’t mean it is not on the worksheet but it hasn’t got to that yet but that to my mind is the absolute key that would turn it into a revolutionary winner rather than as some people might say MCOL mark 2 (the 15 year-old system of Money Claim Online).
“The people who have led ahead are the Canadians with their Civil Resolution Tribunal who put triage right up front on their design process and launched it with triage from day one. That is my Christmas wish and my biggest takeaway.”
Hes also urged HM Courts and Tribunals Service to work more with private initiatives.
“We don’t want a court service monopoly. We need a hybrid system that can be kept up to the mark by private initiatives- court service and private sector need to talk to each other.”
By way of background, he had earlier reflected on what he saw as the key problem initially when he began his work with the Review:
“My biggest takeaway in the sense of what I learnt was when I asked hundreds of consultees in dozens of public meetings whether anybody would advise their friend to go to court as a proportionate way of resolving a civil dispute where the value at risk was less than £25,000 nobody ever answered ‘yes’ under our then current system and that was a big takeaway for me about what was wrong with our then current system.”
Speaking of the deployment of AI, Master Victoria McCloud, the second guest at the meeting, saw the current arrangement whereby court judgments are outsourced for publishing to BAILII, Lawtel etc, as a barrier. She recommends a form of judicial creative commons licence to enable them to be digitally processed.