Courts should ditch ‘absurd’ paper-based systems, say Neuberger and Vos

Britain’s leading judges are calling for an electronic revolution in the courts, arguing that enhanced use of technology would solidify London’s High Court as one of the best in the world.

Mr Justice Vos
Mr Justice Vos

In separate speeches, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Mr Justice Vos both underlined the need for the courts to move away from a paper-based system to improve access to justice and as a means of promoting the UK’s legal services across the world.

In a KPMG lecture delivered on Tuesday, Vos J dismissed the notion that judges should not get involved in promoting the UK’s legal system, which he described as “a huge invisible asset” that drives the exports of other professional services.

“UK legal services promote exports of other professional services, because once a UK-based law firm is involved in an international project or transaction, they tend to recommend or work with UK accountants, management consultants, engineers, architects, banks, financial services firms, and many other associated professional providers,” said Vos J.

Vos went on to suggest a number of ways the courts could improve, including the more efficient and extensive use of IT and emails.

“At the moment, IT is used as an add-on to the paper-based systems,” he said. “The effect is that everything is duplicated. The electronic filing of court documents should, on any basis, become the norm. How absurd is it for solicitors to prepare all their documents on a computer system, print them out, file them at court, and then only send them by email when specifically asked?”

Lord Neuberger
Lord Neuberger

Other changes he suggests include a procedural overhaul of court documents, taking steps to reduce the length of court hearings and trials, and the introduction of a universal docket system in all the Rolls jurisdictions.

At the High Sheriff’s Lecture in Leeds on 13 October, Neuberger MR also expounded the importance of moving away from paper-based systems as a means to improving access to justice.

“It’s practically inconceivable that the current paper-based system will continue,” said Neuberger MR. “The sheer speed and growth of technology over the past quarter century, over the past decade, even over the past 12 months, speaks for itself. We should therefore be looking to reformulate our rules of court and court processes in order to fit with this world.

“At its best, and I stress at its best, this brings the promise of a more efficient and cost-effective system. There will therefore be less of a need for back office space in our courts…Back office space no longer needed could be used for a number of purposes. Some could be used to house legal advice centres, to house pro bono litigation and advocacy services.”

Speeches in full:
Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger
Mr Justice Vos