Woolf knocks on technology's door

The creation of an independent review body and the use of case-flow management systems were among recommendations for IT development in Lord Woolf's final Access to Justice report.

A key proposal of Woolf's recommendations for “sensible investment in appropriate technology” is the creation of an independent strategy body to monitor the private contractor which will supply IT support to the Court Service as part of the much criticised Private Finance Initiative. The body would also promote the development of a long-term IT strategy in the service, review medium-term plans and co-ordinate its technology initiatives with other parts of the justice system.

The immediate creation of a working group to analyse and set requirements of simple PC-based case-flow management systems for judges was also proposed. The group will consist of representatives from the Court Service, the PFI supplier, the Judicial Studies Board, judges and the legal profession. Its research should be complete within the next six months.

Woolf also recommended extensive piloting of telephone conferencing and an extended civil litigation protocol based on existing Official Referees' Solicitors' Association protocol. A “Courtroom of the Future” exhibition, to stimulate interest in IT, and the use of the Internet to inform about court procedures were also proposed.

The Society for Computers and Law welcomed Woolf's proposals. But chair Neil Cameron said he had “serious concerns” about the overall strategic management of IT.

He said there appeared to be no co-ordination between various systems at present. “There is scope here for ensuring that different case management systems can reasonably communicate with each other. The challenge is to get this system implemented at a reasonable cost and in reasonable time.”