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Integrating digital justice will ensure users ‘don’t fall through the cracks of the system’

Sir Geoffrey Vos has hailed the newly established Online Procedure Rule Committee (OPRC) as a ‘turning point towards making all forms of dispute resolution accessible’. But the master of the scrolls has disavowed his “famous, or perhaps infamous, ‘funnel’”: the holistic view in which only disputes of great value and complexity would come to court. “Research has shown that dispute resolution processes are more complicated than that,” Vos said last week in a speech about the future of the courts.

Nevertheless, the MR remains convinced that online dispute resolution can resolve ‘many, if not most, of the millions of disputes that arise every year’.

Lord Briggs’ landmark 2016 report proposed that the online judicial portals created by the HMCTS reform program should be extended to the entire pre-action space. Instead, Vos said, the plan now is to digitally connect existing non-judicial public and private dispute resolution processes with each other and with the digital courts and tribunals.

Vos said the digital justice system, the integration of online counseling services, mediation and arbitration portals, ombudsman services and digital justice will “in time feel like a one-stop shop for those who need it most.”

Sir Geoffrey Vos, master of the scrolls

The OPRC, of ​​which the MR chairs, consists of Chairman of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane; senior president of tribunals Sir Keith Lindblom; specialist lawyer Brett Dixon, Law Society councilor for personal injury; Sarah Stevens, expert in the lay consultancy sector; and technology expert Gerard Boyers.

The committee, that in June last year aims to provide “structure and governance” for a digital dispute resolution environment “that will provide better access to justice.”

Vos said the rules imposed by the OPRC will “uphold common norms and values,” adding: “The combination of values ​​and standards can also provide the opportunity to provide transparency and data that are simply unthinkable now.” For example, there could be a rule requiring participants to report on the extent and type of resolutions or advisory services they provide.”

Vos said that integration would “ensure that users do not fall through the cracks of the system as they do now.” He added: “They will be able to be guided and redirected through the digital ecosystem to find the solution process best suited to their problem(s). The entire process is focused on quick fixes and solutions.”

If users are unable to navigate the system without assistance, Vos suggested that integration would allow users to be directed to online legal advice and ‘hopefully’ legal aid portals.