English, Welsh Courts to Embrace Internet

[London, ENGLAND] The court system in England and Wales is
to leap from the 19th to the 21st century in one bound with
the creation of virtual courts to enable litigation over the
Internet.

In a consultation paper issued this week by the Court Service,
most of the county courts in the two countries will be equipped
with the new technology. The Government says it will spend
US $63 million on the project.

The first step will be taken in February at Preston County
Court when parties to cases will be able to e-mail their
interim applications to the judge. This will be followed
by a Web-based claims service that is expected to go online
during the next year.

Other plans that involve using the Internet in the court system
include a 24-hour information service, allowing people to
obtain forms and leaflets whenever they want them. The
consultation paper also anticipates the use of electronic
payments systems, with accounts for regular users.

The proposals go beyond the Internet to include
recommendations for improved technology to display
documents electronically in the courtroom, together with digital
audio recording of hearings and judgments in civil and family
courts as well as Crown Courts.

Perhaps the most radical suggestion is that the public,
“where appropriate,” will be given direct access to court
hearings over the Internet.

Of great interest to the law profession itself is the
proposed establishment of “Gateway Partnerships” that
will allow users to visit with their advisers while
linking electronically to the court at the same time.

With funding already set aside, it seems likely that
many of the recommendations will be implemented. The
Court Service is an executive agency of the Lord
Chancellor’s Department and its duties include
providing administrative support to the High Court,
the Crown Court and the county courts in England
and Wales.

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