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Warning over online dispute system

A Lancashire expert is urging caution over a proposed online system to deal with low-value court cases.

A report by the Civil Justice Council, the organisation responsible for overseeing and co-ordinating the modernisation of the civil justice system, has suggested using an online dispute system to deal with non-criminal cases of less than £25,000.

The system, which has been compared to that used by online retailing giant eBay to deal with disputes between retailers and customers, is intended to reduce the burden on the court system, and the expenses faced by those going to court.

The plans would involve online support for parties to reach an agreement, with judges ruling on cases. A consultation is now expected before a pilot of the scheme.

John Woosnam, consultant in the Litigation team at Napthens solicitors, who also sits as a Deputy District Judge warned that such a system could never replace the need to obtain proper legal advice from a solicitor.

He said: “There is no doubt that the court system is overstretched, and much of the burden is attributable to the number of small claims in the court system.

“These proposals do go some way towards addressing this issue, and are intended to help both reduce the burden on the courts and on individuals, and so make it easier for people to access justice.

“However, I would question whether this solution does indeed allow people to obtain justice more easily.

“In our experience there is no quick fix for a legal dispute and taking professional advice is always the best way forward. The judges deciding the disputes will apply the law as it is presented in the papers before them. Without legal advice, those making such a claim could be unaware of all the relevant legal arguments available to them and end up with an outcome that may not be best for them.

“Litigation teams have recognised for some time that something must be done to ease the burden on the courts but this may not be the best way to go about it.

“I will be watching with interest to see how these plans develop.”