New justice secretary says users are “astonished” by the lack of technology.
People turning to the courts for justice are “astonished” when they cannot file their documents online, the Justice Secretary said.
Newly-appointed Michael Gove tore into the “archaic IT systems and cumbersome processes” that cause delays and frustrations in England and Wales’ courts.
Making his first speech as lord chancellor today, Gove said the use of e-mail and conference calls was crucial to cutting the number of cases that fail to start on time or later collapse – by removing “excuses for failure”.
But he also turned his fire on the effect of outdated practices on the “millions of individuals every year use our courts to deal with injustice in their everyday lives”.
Gove said: “Whether challenging unscrupulous landlords, reaching custody arrangements after divorce, agreeing liability of a failed contract, or settling a dispute over intellectual property rights worth everything to the parties involved – our courts matter.
“Without our civil and family courts, or our tribunal services, our contracts are unenforceable, and individuals left with no recourse when deprived of their rights.
“But it astonishes businesses and individuals alike that they cannot easily file their case online.
“And it astounds them that they cannot be asked questions online and in plain English, rather than on paper and in opaque and circumlocutory jargon.”
Gove praised the “pioneering work” of Professor Richard Susskind – the IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice – who had found “a huge opportunity to take many of these disputes online”.
And he added: “Questions which have previously required expensive court time and have often, as a result, been marked by acrimony, bitterness and depleted family resources can now be resolved more quickly, efficiently and harmoniously.”
However, the justice secretary was immediately warned he faced tortuous fight to drag the courts into the 21st century, by a former minister in the coalition government.
Two years ago, Damian Green warned lawyers they would be banned from legal aid cases unless they helped cut “unacceptable” court delays by swapping files digitally.
And he vowed to get tough with legal practices holding up plans to create a “single case file”, that can be sent electronically through the justice system.
Today, intervening in justice questions in the Commons, Green told Gove: “I suspect he will find it is like painting the Forth Bridge – with a toothbrush.
“One of the essential elements is that the digital technology increasingly held by the courts talks to the digital technology that the police sue to collect evidence.
“If it doesn’t do that, then it won’t happen.”