Appeal Court judgments should be on the Internet, says report

Elizabeth Davidson reports

A MAJOR review of the Court of Appeal's civil division has called for all of its judgments to be made available on the World Wide Web.

The report, written by a panel of six authors and chaired by former Price Waterhouse senior partner Sir Jeffery Bowman, was commissioned before the election by the then Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay to examine ways of reducing delay.

It envisages a court in which technologically-friendly judges communicate via email and whose verdicts are immediately converted into text on screen using voice recognition technology. These would then be put on the Internet, as House of Lords judgments already are.

The report predicts that bundles of documents will "eventually travel through the court system… in electronic form" and in "multimedia format", and that judges will use the Intranet to learn of cases in the lower courts which are likely to come before them and identify issues of concern in the lower courts.

"As never before… it will be possible to keep an eye on innumerable cases across the entire civil justice system," says the report.

The report recommends that Lords Justices set up a group among themselves to work alongside the court service and assess the impact and utility of new developments in IT.

Author of The Future of the Law, Richard Susskind, who helped write the report, said that the Court of Appeal would be an "important test-bed" for advanced technology as it was influential, respected, with the right size of case load, and staffed by able and committed judges.

Susskind said that he thought the entire court system would be influenced by the recommendations of the report, published last month after almost a year's research.

According to the report, the Lords Justices are enthusiastic about new technology with more than half already using information technology at work and one-third having used it for at least seven years.

But computer systems used by judges vary and the report recommends that a new standard infrastructure be installed, in line with what is provided in other jurisdictions.