British court system goes online

Virtual overhaul to bring court system into 21st century

The government said Monday it has set aside £43m to create a system of virtual courts, which are to augment the "Victorian" system in the UK, enabling litigants to sue over the Internet and judges to deal with small claims by email.

Most of the UK's 222 county courts will be refitted, beginning 5 February, according to the court service consultation paper Modernising the Civil Courts. The proposals include building a "virtual court" that will use the Internet, email and digital TV to make small claims and other transactions, as well as providing a 24-hour information service about cases and advice on court procedures.

The first pilot in February is hoped to reduce the need for court attendance by allowing parties to cases at Preston County Court to email the judge with their interim applications. A facility for online claims will also be available in the next financial year providing citizens and small businesses with a Web based claims service. The complete implementation of the scheme should be in place within the next three years.

The consultation paper speaks of "paperless court rooms" where the majority of litigation is conducted online. "Developments in technology have given people more direct access to services from their own homes, the library, workplace and even the supermarket... People are able to see the benefits of technology in other areas of their lives and, rightly, expect better services and modern facilities from the courts," said David Lock, minister at the Lord Chancellor's office, in a statement.

The proposed reforms follow the government's UK Online initiative to have all of its services online by 2005.

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